It was telling earlier this year when director David Zucker said he wanted to reboot his “Naked Gun” franchise after dabbling far too long in the “Scary Movie” franchise. After all, the original producers behind the inaugural “Scary Movie” are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the longstanding Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker wannabees of parodies. And the reputation differences are quite stark.
If you’ve ever read some of the scathing comments about Friedberg and Seltzer’s movies, you’d think they were on this earth to spread some kind of black plague. To some critics, these two have done such a disservice to the state of the parody film that it’s considered detrimental to the future direction of comedies. Take for instance Josh Levin of Slate who raked Friedberg and Seltzer over the coals with a scathing analysis over their 2008 film “Disaster Movie.”
Others have written about how they think the parodies of this team have created an irreversible dumbing down of what the parody used to be. It’s true that Friedberg and Seltzer’s movies go for the intelligence-insulting cheap shot in their parodies and actually create an anti-parody genre by completely bashing the films they rib. That isn’t playing by the original rules in parody where directors parodying a certain film did so out of respect for the original product.
But while there’s no arguing comedy has been dumbed down in more than just these parodies, it brings up one argument worth debating. Is contempt for contrived plot points in a parody really a bad thing, or is it detrimental to the structure of comedy? You can argue that the movies Friedberg and Seltzer were going after were already worthy of being fried rather than gaining any real respect. That’s in sharp contrast to the classic films Mel Brooks or Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were parodying more than 30 years ago.
It paints an entire picture of decline both in the recent horror genre and in the parodies of those horror movies. Had Friedberg and Seltzer decided to go after Hitchcock, it would have been an entirely different story. Even then, though, it’s nearly impossible to parody Hitchcock now without looking like you’re trying too hard. Mel Brooks did his parody (“High Anxiety”) at the perfect time in 1977.
Perhaps it’s a different story with Friedberg and Seltzer’s next parody, “The Starving Games.” There’s a much stronger fanbase for “The Hunger Games” franchise. And it may be the final straw toward the ever-growing resentment against these two producers. If “Hunger Games” fanatics shut it out, then it’s likely to stall anything new from Friedberg and Seltzer for a while. During the interim, someone has to come back in and rescue the damaged parody genre to remind a new generation of what’s really possible.
Why not team up Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker again to take on the recent spate of Oscar-caliber movies? They were some of the most astute observers about movie genres rather than going for the easy jokes. The only trouble now is convincing them to partner up again when all three went their separate ways quite a while ago. Even David Zucker seems to be stuck in a trap doing comedy that’s far beneath what he and his partners used to do.
The only option is bringing Mel Brooks back and letting him do one more epic, high-budget film. Multiple generations still love his parodies. Plus, he’s still razor sharp in his cognitive skills.
Once those laughs start echoing in theaters again, it’s almost enough to succeed at the impossible task of reversing devolution of quality in comedy.