15 Minutes (review)

TV Made Me Do It

It’s a vicious cycle. Americans respond to what we see on television: We like this! Ratings soar. Advertisers and network execs are ecstatic. Desperate audiences clamor for more. So they give us more.

Look at the content of some of the top-rated television shows: Friends. Will & Grace. Everybody Loves Raymond. Malcolm in the Middle. The Simpsons. Comedy. Humor. Blatantly canned laughter enticing us to join in the merriment even when we don’t feel like it. There’s even an entire cable network devoted to the subject. It’s like TV is trying to egg us on. And what happens? It spills off-screen — it intrudes into the real world: Drive-by jokings. Random comedy in the streets of our once-fine cities. Stand-up in our schools. It’s gotten so that the mere suggestion that a child might be a class clown is enough to get him expelled. And rightly so.
But the media doesn’t care. You know the saying: If it’s funny, it’s money. And we have only ourselves to blame.

But now, with razor-sharp precision, Hollywood dares to turn a baleful eye on itself in the new film 15 Minutes. Our voracious appetite for all things jocular and amusing has rarely taken the beating it takes in this devastating exploration of the American psyche. You’ll think twice before telling that “hilarious” joke or forwarding that “funny” email after this one.

Emil (Karel Roden) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) are stand-up comics from, respectively, Russia and Czechoslovakia, who come to New York City, drawn by the image of America as the land of the open-mike night. Almost immediately upon arriving, Oleg — the truly humor-obsessed one — finagles the object of his dreams from an unsuspecting electronics merchant, grabbing a camcorder while the guy is doubled over with laughter at Oleg’s “three whores and a mobster” bit that slew every night back in Prague. And then, with Oleg taping it all, Emil goes on a comedy spree, killing unsuspecting New Yorkers with his fresh Slavic routines.

Oleg is just videoing for a lark, but soon Emil, watching TV in their cheap Times Square hotel, sees how popular comedy is on television, and how Americans are unwilling to take responsibility for their own propensity for humor. And Emil realizes that he can use that to his advantage: “TV made me do it” will be his defense when he’s caught, and he plans on getting caught so he can sell the rights to his story… which will be worth a fortune, seeing as how stupid and quip-addled the fat, parasitical American public is.

Determined to stop Oleg and Emil before they commit comicide again is famous NYPD detective Eddie Flemming (Robert DeNiro: Meet the Parents, The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle — note that his most recent films are, yes, comedies). Flemming courts media attention like he’s guest-hosting The Tonight Show, always managing to find himself in the middle of cases the newshounds are all over. And talk about being in bed with the media: his girlfriend is a TV news reporter, Nicolette Karas (Melina “Don’t Call Me that Chick from Providence” Kanakaredes), who just happens to show up at all of his crime scenes. Flemming’s unwitting partner is NYFD arson investigator — some humor is simply explosive, you know — Jordy Warsaw (Edward “Don’t Call Me Ed” Burns), who is anti-media, because he understands that so-called news programs only promote the kind of shocking comedy they appear to be condemning. But he has to contend with tabloid news king Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer, star of a popular, yes, sitcom), who’s desperate for graphically funny stories that his TV show can broadcast, preferably over the Jumbotrons in Times Square, where even little kids might be watching.

Truly, the media are scum. But the cops are just as bad. And it’s really the American public’s fault anyway. You know who you are.

Disclaimer: The preceding has been satire, I confess. But it’s not my fault. I watched an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? just before writing this, and it obviously warped my fragile little brain.

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