May 1, 2007

In Case You Missed It—May 1, 2007

I’d like to devote this week to two recent comedies that have slipped under the radar over the past few weeks, despite being some of the funniest films to hit the screen in a long time.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters

This movie is essentially an hour-and-a-half-long episode of the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which airs on Adult Swim. If you have never seen the show, I don’t really know how to describe it. It stars three anthropomorphic food items: a giant milk shake, a floating order of fries, and a wad of meat. They have superpowers that they rarely use and live in a house in New Jersey. The events of each episode are much too surreal to put into words, but the humor is definitely there. It’s a whacked-out, drug-induced humor that one imagines Salvador Dali getting a kick out of, but it still makes you laugh.

The movie is a long episode of the show with an extra helping of funny. Long-time fans will be decidedly impressed by the coherence and consistent humor of the movie, and if you’ve never seen the show, the movie will at least make you laugh. If you’re a newcomer, I have to warn you: Be prepared for a sense of humor that’s something akin to Family Guy on 32 hits of LSD.

One thing I think most people can appreciate about this movie, and the Aqua Teen series as a whole, is that its humor is often so bizarre that you find yourself laughing because there’s simply no other logical response to what you’re seeing onscreen. I may be guilty of justifying lazy joke-telling with some overly analytical excuse, but I feel Aqua Teen really tries to push the limits of traditional humor. To the writers of Aqua Teen, it doesn’t seem to be about building a coherent plot made out of a string of “cuh-razy” slapstick antics and witty one-liners. It’s about pushing the sanity of the audience’s sense of humor and getting the viewer to laugh at things that he barely understands. Aqua Teen is mostly a string of loosely connected events that seem to be saying humor is not irony per se, but that it is the human response to absurdity and nothing else.

Of course, it’s also a movie that stars a gigantic milk shake, a time-traveling Abraham Lincoln, a flaming chicken, and kleptomaniac Mooninites. You may be better off just taking it at face value.

Hot Fuzz

By contrast, Hot Fuzz—crafted by the same people who brought you Shaun of the Dead—is at the opposite end of the comedy spectrum. Where Aqua Teen sacrifices coherency for sheer lunacy, Hot Fuzz almost goes out of its way to be unfunny (at least at the start), slowly and carefully building up a plot and characters. I’ll be honest, I laughed maybe twice in the first 30 minutes of this movie. There just aren’t a whole lot of jokes or funny situations. Not to say that the first half hour is uninteresting—far from it. But instead of diving straight into ridiculous gags, or forcing jokes out of situations that just don’t call for them, the writers behind Hot Fuzz first carefully set the story, develop the characters, and then release it all in a powerful explosion of comedy that’s nothing short of orgasmic. I have never laughed harder than I did during the second half of Hot Fuzz.

The trick was in the buildup. The story follows Nicholas Angel—London’s top cop—as he’s forced to transfer to a quaint little town in the English countryside. He’s obviously bored out of his mind. His fish-out-of-water status lends itself to a few jokes, but mostly the audience is a little bored and frustrated along with him. But once a string of strange “accidental deaths” begin occurring, the movie picks up both in the action and humor departments and ends with a shootout sequence that tops any comedy I’ve seen in the past five years, including Shaun of the Dead.

In all honesty, I rarely laugh during comedies. For example, I loved Anchorman. It had some really funny moments. But they weren’t funny in the sense that they made me laugh uproariously. They were funny in their own little quirky, ironic, self-referential way. Other comedies are really only funny because the main character is put into awkward situations, and the audience feels like it has to laugh (I’m looking at you, Ben Stiller). It’s not funny; it’s just uncomfortable. Very few comedies lately have been universally funny—in the sense that I feel like I could play them to an audience in 50 years and people would still laugh. Young Frankenstein and Doctor Strangelove are two perfect examples of this, and it’s nice to see that there are still people out there who appreciate quality comedy.