End of Civilization as We Know It
Good movies are timeless. Bad movies, on the other hand, are very much artifacts of the moment — the things that make bad movies bad are specific to the zeitgeist in which they are produced… or maybe it only seems that way. Maybe there’s all kind bad in bad movies: but like how when you own a red car it seems like the road is dominated by red cars, it’s an illusion that all that is wrong and wicked and inoffensive in the larger culture seems to be mirrored in movies that have gone wrong, too.
Like, for instance, Final Destination 3, an unredeemably sadistic film that makes a joke of horrific death. There is absolutely no point to this film except inciting audiences to new levels of bloodlust — and it responded in kind, at least at the preview screening I attended: there was something truly bone-deep disturbing about listening to that crowd actually, literally stomp in delight and cheer out loud for each increasingly gruesome onscreen death. I’d call it animalistic, except animals don’t behave like that — it’s pretty much strictly a human quirk. This was the kind of bloodthirsty roar that I imagine rocked the Roman coliseum when Christians and political prisoners were thrown to the lions.
X-Files vets Glen Morgan and James Wong may have had an intriguing premise with the first film, even if it was X-Files lite: the idea that death is uncheatable flies in the face of the typical conceit of horror movies, which usually demand at least one or two survivors. But they’ve done nothing to expand on it or give it a new twist with the subsequent films — they keep making the same X-Files episode over and over again. Except they get more inventive in how they off the annoying teenagers in death’s bull’s-eye, concocting complicated Rube Goldberg scenarios in which everyday objects become instruments of decapitation, dismemberment, and all manner of bodily mortification. With nowhere else to go and nothing fresh to bring to the same story the third time out, Wong and Morgan have gone beyond the pale with this, a veritable gladiatorial orgy of grisly death designed to engage the audience’s base savagery. I can scarcely bear to consider what that says about the state of American society, but it’s hardly a surprising development in a cultural milieu that has produced everything from the cruel humiliations of American Idol all the way up to the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
It’s hardly a newsflash, then, that a “light comedy” like the atrocious Pink Panther would feature an excruciatingly unfunny dispatch from the Global War on Terror: electrical shocks to the testicles? quelle amusant! It’s tempting to see this desecration of a comedy classic — not a remake of the Blake Edwards films, it’s more like fictional-character assassination — as Steve Martin’s own throwing up of hands in despair. We didn’t make his sophisticated, subtle Shop Girl a hit, so he dishes out what he knows, alas, today’s American audiences will gobble up greedily: a painful assemblage of distasteful slapstick (not one but two elderly and infirm folks are abused — by the putative hero, no less — in the opening moments of the film alone), cultural stereotyping, and celebrations of idiocy that will try the patience of anyone with a double-digit IQ or age.
Evidence of how bizarro Hollywood has got? The perpetrator of Big Fat Liar get to proudly splash “A Shawn Levy Film” across the opening credits… cartoon opening credits in which Inspector Clouseau shoots himself in the groin. Martin (Cheaper by the Dozen 2) dares to announce to the world, in those credits, that he was one of the writers of this mess — along with Len Blum, who graced us with Howard Stern’s Private Parts and Beethoven’s 2nd — but he at least has a few shreds of dignity left. He looks horribly uncomfortable as the beyond-buffoonish Inspect Clouseau, and so he should: he realizes, maybe, that this iteration of the bumbling inspector is an unintentional ode to our society’s propensity to embrace incompetence at the highest levels of our institutions. It’s like this: Clouseau is brought in by the French chief of police (Kevin Kline: De-Lovely, who also looks embarrassed to be here) on a case of national import because the chief knows Clouseau will fail, at which point the chief will step in and take over and look like a hero. The concept that the chief might be taken to task — by the media, by the people — for hiring the incompetent Clouseau in the first place never crosses his mind, and indeed such a contingency never comes to pass at all.
Oh, the chief is “punished,” of course, by much physical abuse from the idiotic Clouseau, but Clouseau’s incompetence and stupidity never lets up… and the film never knows how to deal with that. “It was an honor serving with you, sir,” Clouseau’s sidekick (Jean Reno: Hotel Rwanda) says, which is complete bullshit even within the context of this bullshit: Reno’s good cop has been witness to Clouseau’s endlessly moronic behavior as well as the rewards he garners because of it. Only in a world in which ineptitude is not held to account and no one cares could this work.
Which is dangerously close to our world, too. Imagine a heartwarming film about a “charmingly” inept Michael Brown triumphing as the head of FEMA, and you can imagine how sickening a movie The Pink Panther is, too.