Monday, May 10, 2010

Club Dread (Unrated)

The comedy spoof movie sub-genre has always been hit and miss.  Even genre kingpins like Mel Brooks, Jim Abrahams, and the Zucker brothers have had embarrassing missteps (Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Mafia! spring to mind).  Nowadays, the Wayans family has essentially taken over the spoof market; every spoof that has hit theaters in the past ten years has either had a Wayans in it or a writer/director from a Wayans project involved with it.  I have major issues with this trend, partially because I think the Wayans spoofs are lazy, obvious and insulting to my intelligence, and partly because watching there is scientific evidence that they cause massive brain hemorrhages.  My biggest issue with these newer spoofs is that they are mean-spirited.  They don't seem to like the things that they are spoofing, so it becomes an exercise in taunting the spoof subject instead of giving the audience a few laughs and some wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments.
Club Dread is, without a doubt in my mind, the best movie spoof in the past ten years.  There are a few ways that this film separates itself from the pack, and these differences add up quickly to make an  First and foremost, this is not a traditional spoof. 
Just try to name another movie with watermelon-pretzel sex
This is a genuine blend of a stupid comedy and a slasher movie.  There is a quality horror movie here; Broken Lizard just inserted comedic characters into a horror plot.  That this spoof actually has a plot is another key difference.  Most spoofs use their plot as a loose timetable for them to arrange skits or visual gags.  This movie doesn't work like that.  You won't see any actors impersonating Tom Cruise or making any pop culture references to Paris Hilton here.  Instead, the jokes are almost always character- or plot-based.  Perhaps the most important difference between this spoof and the many others on the market today is the respect (or, at least, fondness) Broken Lizard clearly has for the horror genre.  The quality of the kills is pretty decent, showing some gore and some originality.  That makes this more of a comedic tribute to the slasher pics of the 1970s and 80s than an outright spoof.
Which is good, because the world doesn't need more "Trapped in the Closet" jokes

The movie follows a fairly traditional plot outline.  A group of moderately attractive young singles finds themselves in an isolated location with a mysterious killer on the loose.  The singles in this movie are the Broken Lizard troupe: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske.  Of course, they aren't terribly attractive, so they get some help from Brittany Daniel and Jordan Ladd. 
"I'm helping"
The isolated location is the island pleasure resort of Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton), a less-successful contemporary of Jimmy Buffett.  The resort has a few hundred twenty-somethings running around, swimming, drinking and having promiscuous sex.  The killer murders the island's staff (which includes the Broken Lizard guys) with a machete and leaves obscure Coconut Pete references as clues for the staff to decode.  As a horror movie, this isn't a great plot, but I've certainly seen worse.  As a comedic plot, there are many opportunities for the cast to mistakenly suspect characters of being the killer, and the resort setting is an easy mark for party and sex jokes.  All in all, the plot is more than strong enough to support the comedic aspects of the film, with a decent horror framing device.

With that disclaimer in place, how good is this movie?  It's pretty awesome.  The mediocre slasher movie elements jump out at you first.  Creative deaths?  Check --- my favorite is when the masked killer puts on a costume (think about that) to participate in a life-sized, alcohol-fueled Pac-Man game.  Gratuitous nudity?  Double check! 
Erotic penis statue?  Triple Check!
It's the subtle comedy that makes this one a winner, though.  Of course, there are big dumb gags (there's good usage of man-gina and a lot of stoner jokes), but the best are the little ones.  When Kevin Heffernan shows up as the replacement masseur for a six-foot Swedish babe, he only points out that he's 6'1".  Because that's why the guys on the island are upset.  And then there is Steve Lemme's pronunciation of "Penelope" as "Peen-elope."  It's so stupid, but this mistake is never pointed out by any characters in the movie, so he just keeps saying "Peen-elope" the entire time.  Or, around the campfire, Paul Soter tells the tale of Phil Colletti, who massacred his friends with a machete and to this day he is known as, not Colletti.  Machete Phil, even though it doesn't rhyme.  These clever little half jokes are all over the script and I laugh at almost every one.
Admittedly, most of the masseur gags aren't quite half-jokes

Part of these successful moments is due to the actors' timing, but the rest is due to good direction; Chandrasekhar is a good comedic director, knowing how to milk even kinda funny moments for all they are worth.  He's lucky to have some solid supporting actors, though.  Bill Paxton is awesome as Coconut Pete; his nonverbal acting is top notch and he really does come across as a stoned, has-been rocker when he speaks.  The lyrics and song titles for Coconut Pete songs are so good that Jimmy Buffett even played Coconut Pete songs on his tour that summer. 
"Ponytails and Cocktails" is dangerously on-the-nose as a Buffet spoof
M.C. Gainey has some great lines as the resident tough guy on the island and Samm Levine has apparently progressed from playing a general nerd in Freaks and Geeks to playing a sexually aggressive nerd here.  The bulk of the work, though, falls on the shoulders of the Broken Lizard guys.  This time around, I think that Paul Soter as the DJ/drug dealer has the best not-quite-jokes while Steve Lemme is probably the funniest as the sex-crazed Nicaraguan dive instructor.  Kevin Heffernan is okay as the masseur, but he plays the hero and doesn't get to be as randomly fantastic as he was in Super Troopers.  Erik Stolhanske, though, looks like he enjoys his role as the Fun Police, enforcing free drinks with a Super-Soaker, when necessary.
That's a Super-Soaker.  Probably.

This movie is not flawless, of course.  This marriage between horror and comedy leaves moments where one genre is being sacrificed for the other.  It's not a huge problem for me, mind you, but I understand that argument.  Probably the worst aspect of this movie is the acting of Jay Chandrasekhar.  The man did a pretty good job of directing here, but (according to the commentary) the group decided to give him an annoying accent and goofy hairpiece to help offset his tendency to get stressed when filming.  I'm sure that Broken Lizard laughs at his scenes, but viewers are left on the outside of that inside joke.  Seriously, I wish they had just left him out of the movie entirely.  The ending can be annoying for people looking for a more traditional horror experience, but I've always felt in was in-line with the general feel of Club Dread.  It's stupid and plays on a horror cliche, but it's still pretty funny.
Another horror cliche: watching people watch things
Maybe the key to liking this movie is feeling like you're in on the joke.  If you're walking in to Club Dread expecting a traditional slasher movie, you'll be disappointed.  If you're looking for another straight-up comedy, like Super Troopers, you'll probably still be disappointed.  But if you're in the mood for something different and reasonably clever/stupid/gory, there aren't many better options out there.

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