C'mon Hollywood: Stop being so lazy, comedians!
This past weekend I decided to check out THE WATCH, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. Although I wasn’t frothing at the mouth to see it, I have enjoyed the work of the cast members in the past and an R-rated alien-invasion neighborhood watch movie with their collective comedic talent would at least deliver some solid laughs, right? Wrong. I sat perplexed for 100 minutes of sheer boredom, flat jokes, tired plot devices, and worst of all, comedic actors phoning in their performances.
I wish I could say that I loved THE WATCH, because it should’ve been great. A high concept summer comedy with some generally funny people should’ve been a knock out of the park. Well, perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, and Ayoade thought the same thing. The work is practically done, so why not just show up on set, put on the stupid jacket, and ad-lib some of the usual shtick?
When the torture was over, I pondered what the last good comedy I saw was. It was 3, 2, 1…FRANKIE GO BOOM and BACHELORETTE. Before that, I saw THE DICTATOR, which was fun, but really just more of Sacha Baron-Cohen’s same old routine. Between 2011-2012 the best comedies I saw were BRIDESMAIDS, HANGOVER PART II, and 21 JUMP STREET (strangely enough). Yes, even the warmed-over plot of HANGOVER PART II still held more sway than the powerhouse team of Stiller and co. in an R-rated alien invasion comedy. Although TED was the number one comedy of the year, I strangely haven’t met a single person that saw it (myself included).
Each of THE WATCH’s main stars have had tremendous success early on and some are heading down the route of Eddie Murphy. Somewhere along the way, Murphy settled into his schtick, forgot to challenge himself, and burrowed into a rut. From the R-rated, trash-talking, funnyman to kid-friendly, high-concept bomb-dropper, Murphy is a cautionary tale to comedians and it would behoove the likes of Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill, not to mention the likes of Sandler, Kevin James, Baron-Cohen, and anyone else in the dick-and-fart genre, to take note.
The problem is that these guys find success in a certain character and milk it to the last drop. That’s all well and good, but no comedian (or actor for that matter) should get comfortable. I realize it’s not an easy game to play, balancing what people say they want versus what they may need, and no one wants to shoot themselves on the foot by becoming something that they never were in the first place. So, how can these funnymen remain funny?
First, they need to consider that if they’re playing the exact same character just with a different name then it’s time for a rewrite. Unless they’re in a sequel, there’s just no cause for it. Shit, a sequel is tricky enough as it is. Second, if they think all the work is done because they’ve got a high-concept, then it’s time to re-read that script (assuming they read it in the first place). Thirdly, not everyone is Will Ferrell. Not every movie is ANCHORMAN (a modern classic, in my opinion) and not every scene merits ad-lib tangents. Certainly, lightning can be caught in a bottle for some of those scenes, but as a rule, it’s not a good idea. Sticking with the age-old concept of starting with a great script applies across the board, no matter the genre.
The comedies and comedic actors that have sustainability are the ones who are consistent with their abilities, while stretching the material. They take risks. They take on a dramatic role from time-to-time. They write some new material. They go out of their way to NOT be the exact same character in every movie. And, most of all, they remember what they’re actually doing; making people laugh.
I think that Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill all have it within them to make solid comedies, but it won’t happen with the same ol’ shtick. Stiller is great in the MEET THE PARENTS films, but he needs a lot more TROPIC THUNDER and ZOOLANDER in his career to make it worthwhile. Vaughn defined himself with the rant-laden persona from SWINGERS, but what happened to the fun comedies like DODGEBALL? Hill was awesome in 21 JUMP STREET and out of the three I think he’s got some real staying power. He’s got some clout with MONEYBALL and is currently shooting Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. I’ll let him have a bad one with THE WATCH, but there’s no excuse for THE SITTER.
Comedy is a touchy genre, mostly because we don’t all have the same sense of humor. Many of us get on a kick where we loathe a certain comedic performer and anything he/she does. It’s rare that a comedian is universally loved. Shit, I can’t think of one. However, regardless of our individual taste, the one thing that stands as a must for any comedian to keep the laughs coming is to put forth the effort. No one is so good that they don’t have to try, no matter how effortless it may look. For those that are struggling with mid-career blues, it may be time to remember what exactly it is they’re in it for.
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|Extra Tidbit:||My current stash of favorite comedic actors; Louis C.K., Danny McBride (Kenny Powers FTW), Zach Galifianakis, Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly (Boats n' Hoes!), Nick Offerman, Anna Faris, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Sudeikis, Steve Zahn, Owen Wilson, Michael Cera, and Mitch Hedberg (RIP). Yours?|