Monday, March 10, 2014

A Hopeless Search for Laughs in 2014 Film Trailers

What do the trailers of Hollywood's upcoming slate of comedy films tell us about the state of American comedy?  Unfortunately, today's filmmakers depend largely on raunchy comedy and shock comedy, both of which appeal mostly to the feeble-minded and the infantile.  The trailer for Bad Words includes a raunchy turn on one of the oldest gags in film history.  Let me provide background on the gag before I reveal the way in which this funny business has been reduced to an off-putting bathroom joke.

In 1903's Catch of Hard Shell Crabs, a mischievous boy empties a bucket of crabs into an old man's bed.  The old man no sooner settles into bed then he jumps up with crabs clinging to various parts of his body.  In the real world, a crab uses its pincers to seize and subdue prey, break open a mollusc's shell, fight foes, and signal other crabs.  But, in the comedy world, a crab uses its pincers solely to latch onto the assorted body parts of an unwary man.  Another marine crustacean, the lobster, also gets into the action at times.  Crustaceans could be expected to turn up whenever a comedian got close to an ocean.  In the 1913 Pathé Frères comedy Boireau à la pêche, André Deed is yanked into the ocean by a powerful fish struggling at the end of his fishing line.  Other fishermen promptly pull Deed out of the water, but by then a lobster has attached itself to our sad hero's backside.  Arthur Cunningham is swimming in the ocean when a crab snatches onto his big toe in the 1915 Falstaff comedy A Massive Movie Mermaid.

This trend continued for decades. The gag remained virtually the same except that the lobster or crab grabbed onto a different body part from film to film.  A comedian might have a crab hanging from their ear like an exotic earring or have their nose squeezed indelicately between a pair of pincers.  In Waiting (1925), Lloyd Hamilton expresses exquisite pain when he reaches into an icebox and comes out with a crab locked onto his finger.  Let's look at other examples.

Billy Bevan in Galloping Bungalows (1924)

Curly Howard in Matri-Phony (1942)

Lou Costello in Lost in Alaska (1952) 

 Come on, Shemp, show them how it's done.

Of course, tastes have changed.  We now live in a permissive and enlightened world, which I have been told is nearly utopian.  Bringing this timeless gag into our great new world now means having a marine crustacean latch its claws onto a new body part - a man's testicles.

Is this progress?  I managed, by exercising my utopian free will, not to laugh at this. 

The Bridesmaids influence continues, bringing us films in which women get drunk and act foolishly.  The trailer for The Other Woman features Leslie Mann getting drunk and vomiting into her purse.

Female comedians acting as stupidly as male comedians is supposed to be a form of female empowerment.  Who am I to argue?  Fine, go for it.  When the drunken woman passes out, Cameron Diaz carries her out to her car to get her home.  This allows Mann and Diaz to take on a routine that has been performed by venerable film comedians for close to a hundred years.

Walk of Shame presents yet another drunken women.  The plot is simple.  Following a boozy one-night stand, a woman (Elizabeth Banks) finds herself stranded in downtown Los Angeles without her phone or wallet and has only eight hours to get to an important job interview.

Last year, Banks argued on her blog that a sexy woman can be as funny as a goofy man.  This film will put her theory to test as the shapely actress wears a tight, skimpy yellow dress throughout her trek across Los Angeles.  At one point, she tries to borrow a bicycle from a small boy, but the boy is a horny little operator and he is only willing to part with his bicycle in exchange for a peek at Banks' bare breasts.

Bad Words looks to be dependent wholly on shock comedy.

This film goes a step further than Walk of Shame by featuring a scene in which a small boy asks for and receives a peek at a streetwalker's breasts.

Better Living Through Chemistry tries to elicit laughs from shameless acts of adultery and drug abuse.  Yes, more sex and intoxicants.

Neighbors introduces us to fledgling parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne).  In the trailer, the Radners do not come across as being as wise or responsible as we would expect parents to be.

Oh, here's a comedy stunt achieved through CGI.  Not very funny.

The most nauseating part of the trailer is the couple discovering their baby teething on a frat boy's used condom.

Am I supposed to be laughing uproariously as the couple rushes the baby to an emergency room out of fear that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease?  Ho-ho, an infant has an STD scare.  I suppose that this is meant to please the creepy little degenerate that lives inside us all.  But, to be honest, I don't get it.  Why is it funny to drag infants and small children into the adult world of prostitution, condoms and slutty little yellow dresses?

These days, it would probably be best for Woody Allen's image for the comedian to play a celibate monk in a film.  But, unfortunately, Allen appears as a leering pimp in Fading Gigolo.

Are any of these trailers free of sex, drugs and alcohol?  I found three, Blended, The Budapest Hotel and A Haunted House 2Blended looks to get laughs from Adam Sandler riding a CGI ostrich.

Wes Anderson's The Budapest Hotel looks to be a film that focuses more on color, composition and whimsy than story and character.  But, hopefully, the trailer serves the same purpose as an eye-catching book cover, using color and design to draw the public to a rich and satisfying story contained within.

The highlight of the trailer for A Haunted House 2 is Marlon Wayans and Gabriel Iglesias killing a possessed chicken and then frying up the creature for two heaping plates of chicken and waffles.

Possessed chicken?  Chicken and waffles?  This is somewhat outside of my frame of reference.  I have never let my waffles get near a chicken, whether broiled, baked or fried, and the idea of a possessed chicken strikes me as more strange than funny.  More remarkable, though, is the execrable way in which Wayans mugs his way through the trailer.

I am sorry, we are not amused.  Better luck next year, Hollywood.

Additional Film Clip

The Three Stooges in A Pain In The Pullman (1936)

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