Movie dross that leaves all joking aside

Don't bank on the multiplex to assuage World Cup misery, says Ben Walsh – Hollywood comedies just aren't funny anymore

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:49

The film is scrappy and disjointed. The end is weird rather than funny," claims Anthony Quinn, The Independent's film critic, on Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand's latest "comedy". I have no reason to doubt him. Put simply, Hollywood comedies just aren't funny anymore. These glossy products don't deliver on the wild claims – "Hilarious", "Genius" – on their heavily airbrushed posters. They no longer feel the need to contain any, you know, jokes.

"Look at this. You're the only man in the world with clenched hair," Walter Matthau berates Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple. See, that's a joke. "Not many people know it, but the Führer was a terrific dancer," from The Producers. Another joke. "Don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love," confesses Woody Allen in Annie Hall. And that's another one.

Now, it seems, we have a succession of dismal vanity projects in which, more often than not, two men tediously riff about being, well, a man, about being a bit, you know, lost and about being a bit in love with the other man. This, of course, has been the platform for many exquisite comedies from Some Like It Hot to Trading Places to Midnight Run, but the difference now is that the writers seem to think they can get away with not providing any detectable gags.

Even the Farrelly brothers used to unleash the odd exquisite gross-out moment – Ben Stiller's trapping his chappy in his trouser zip in There's Something About Mary, for instance – to keep our funny bone tickled. Hell, even Adam Sandler provided the occasional guilty giggle, particularly when he, at his boorish best, memorably yelled, "Well, I have a microphone, and you don't, SO YOU WILL LISTEN TO EVERY DAMN WORD I HAVE TO SAY!" in The Wedding Singer.

But now the plots just seem to drift to no good comic purpose; not much seems to actually happen in these capers and the lack of tension matches the lack of laughs. Which films are we talking about here? Exhibit A: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, about a man (Jason Segel) who has been dumped for a rock star (the dead-behind-the-eyes Russell Brand) and which contains not one single joke. Not one. It's a romance of sorts, but not a comedy. Then there's the overlong Pineapple Express (2008), a buddy movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which consists of nearly two hours of in-jokes and scenes of ritual humiliation. And Judd Apatow's excruciating "anti-comedy" Funny People, where a jaded, loveless comic (Adam Sandler) agonises to Seth Rogen about the futility of it all. In fact, as a general guide, avoid any comedies involving these people: Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Russell Brand, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill (podgy doesn't equal funny), Gerard Butler and serial offender Katherine Heigl, who has starred in the holy trinity of stinkers – Knocked Up, Killers (recently released to universal loathing) and The Ugly Truth, the worst of the lot. It reeks.

Everywhere you look, films billed as a "comedy" are just not remotely droll. Sex in the City 2 is an extended commercial. Chris Rock's recent Death at a Funeral has been described as a "loud mess". The Men Who Stare at Goats, adapted from Jon Ronson's excellent book, is a woefully unfunny conspiracy comedy where a gamey George Clooney – trying to channel the genius of Cary Grant, but coming across more like the spawn of Norman Wisdom and Jennifer Lopez – manages to illicit defeated groans rather than hearty guffaws. And, obviously, everything starring Jennifer Aniston in the past six years: Rumor Has It, The Break-Up, Love Happens, Along Came Polly...

The art of sharp, snappy, witty dialogue has vanished. Writers of the calibre of Woody Allen, Neil Simon, I A L Diamond and Mel Brooks just aren't emerging. If you need a laugh – and who doesn't after suffering England's World Cup demise – then it's better to explore US TV, where even the "serious" dramas, like Mad Men and House, provide more belly laughs than a Apatow or Rogen movie. Or maybe try a British comedy effort, like, er... St Trinians... Or... Oh dear...

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