Film parodies that fail to raise a smile

A lamentable slew of recent spoof movies has done untold damage to a once proud – and hilarious – genre, says Ben Walsh
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Your Highness, Danny McBride's woeful sword-and-sorcery spoof, which had the misleading tagline "Best. Quest. Ever.", is thankfully limping out of nationwide cinemas, still, no doubt, reeling from numerous vituperative reviews: "It's bad. It makes Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men in Tights look like a masterpiece"; "Lamest. Gags. Ever."; and, worst of all, "The script is little more than a parade of obscenities, assembled by the charmless McBride."

They're being kind. Your Highness, which spitefully wastes the talents of Natalie Portman, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel, makes Scary Movie seem watchable. Let's face it, decent spoof movies have, like John Cleese's Norwegian Blue, joined the choir invisible. For further proof of their demise, take a sado-masochistic look at Vampires Suck, last year's parody of the Twilight series, which one critic labelled "fanatically unfunny". Once again, they were being kind.

Spoof capers probably reached their zenith with the Zucker brothers' peerless Airplane!, which was full of exquisite sight gags (the Saturday Night Fever dance sequence in particular) and terrific dialogue ("There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?")

However, it was Mel Brooks who was indubitably the champion of the spoof. The former Sid Caesar gag writer made a whole film career out of parodies, winningly spoofing Westerns (Blazing Saddles), Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers (High Anxiety, which features a gloriously deranged performance from Cloris Leachman as neo-Nazi nurse Diesel) and – best of all – horror films, with the sublime Young Frankenstein. It was a send-up that worked so well because Brooks clearly adores the genre, lovingly replicating the look and feel of James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein. And all the acting is suitably gamey, with Gene Wilder as the crazed Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Peter Boyle as the randy monster, Marty Feldman as the faithful servant, Igor, and the wonderful Madeline Kahn as the frisky financier: "He vould have an enormous schwanzstucker".

Brooks had less success with Spaceballs (a parody of the Star Wars and Star Trek films) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but then even these poor efforts had their moments.

The Zucker brothers gleefully seized the baton from Brooks, directing and writing both Airplane movies and cleverly using earnest actors – Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves – and feeding them extremely silly lines: "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" They followed this up with the deliciously ludicrous (and underrated) spy/Elvis Presley parody Top Secret!, containing Val Kilmer's funniest (possibly finest) performance as a rock'n'roll singer, and the funniest pantomime-cow sequence in a Hollywood film.

The Zuckers flogged the spoof gravy a little further with the Naked Gun movies, which lifted their best gags from the superior US TV parody Police Squad, and starred Nielsen as the smutty ("I've finally found someone I can love – a good, clean love... without utensils") Frank Drebin. The series provided ever-diminishing returns and ended with the painful Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

Unfortunately, the Zuckers' efforts threw open the floodgates to the likes of the Charlie Sheen stinkers Hot Shots! (a parody of Top Gun) and Hot Shots! Part Deux (a send up of Rambo). Plus, the dismal Austin Powers series, the tedious Get Smart, with Steve Carell, and Date Movie, which one critic described as "deeply rubbish". But not as lamentable as Disaster Movie. Worst. Spoof. Ever.

But even these efforts couldn't prepare us for the Wayan brothers and their surreally unfunny spoofs. Scary Movie, a parody of teen horror flicks, particularly Scream, unfortunately gave the brothers a platform from which they proceeded to give us three more Scary Movies and the dismal White Chicks, a parody of undercover cop dramas.

Spoofing films is probably best left to comedy sketch shows (Armstrong & Miller) or stand-up comedy routines. The films have to stop, because like the demented scientist in Young Frankenstein points out, "It's rotten, I tell ya! Rotten!"