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Dustin Putman

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Meet the Spartans  (2008)
Zero Stars
Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Kevin Sorbo, Jareb Dauplaise, Travis Van Winkle, Ken Davitian, Diedrich Bader, Method Man, Nicole Parker, Phil Morris, Jim Piddock, Ike Barinholtz, Crista Flanagan, Hunter Clary, Emily Wilson.
2008 – 84 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 25, 2008.
Words cannot accurately describe what a depressing experience each new film from spoof-laden writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer is. These two lucky bastards are the absolute dirges of modern cinema, cobbling together laughless visual and technical monstrosities that wouldn't pass muster in an amateur filmmaking school for the mentally disabled. And yet, due to a bored teenybopper youth market that will apparently go see anything rated PG-13 on a Friday night, their projects do well enough financially for Friedberg and Seltzer to again and again receive the money from studio 20th Century Fox to annually recreate their previous year's creative failure. 2006's hacky "Date Movie" at least had the benefit of the lovely Alyson Hannigan in the lead role, but 2007's worst picture, "Epic Movie," and now the "300"-inspired "Meet the Spartans" are beyond repair, so offensively atrocious in every facet that the act of watching them is akin to witnessing a tragic death occur before one's eyes while onlookers off to the side cackle and point.

There was a time when a slapstick movie relied on several things—a plot that poked fun at its source material while inventing fresh avenues for it to travel down; wickedly clever and intentionally outrageous dialogue; deadpan performances from actors who appeared to not be in on the joke; expert comic timing and polished editing, and a busy mise en scene that didn't skimp on making sure rapid-fire gags subtly occurred in the background of shots as well as in the front. 1980's classic "Airplane!" and 1988's "The Naked Gun" are prime example of how the genre can excel when there are dignified people at the helm who genuinely care about the quality of their products. Even as recently as 2003's "Scary Movie 3" (we will forget 2006's mediocre "Scary Movie 4" even happened), this spoof model was being closely followed and paying off. Well, that was then, this is now.

In "Meet the Spartans," Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's twisted version of a spoof is to follow the premise of a single past box-office hit and then inundate it with latent, nonstop homophobic stereotypes (didn't the portrayal of all gay people as skipping, dancing, hand-holding fairies who like to listen to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" go out of style in the disco era that song is from?), as well as joke-deprived pop-culture references that will be outdated by the end of its release date weekend. The end of its release date weekend, you say? Yes. The post-credits coda depicts an actor doing a bad impersonation of Sylvester Stallone in "Rambo," an obvious allusion to another film arriving in theaters on the very same day. Come to think of it, some of the references are already long past their sell-by date; one particular scene involving a locked-up chastity belt is stolen from Mel Brooks' 15-year-old "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

If you recall the storyline to 2007's "300," you know the storyline to "Meet the Spartans." In ancient Greek times, tautly-abbed Spartan warrior Leonidas (Sean Maguire) must leave behind sexy wife Margo (Carmen Electra) and gather together as many men as he can find who are willing to fight against the invading Persians, led by Xerxes (Ken Davitian). The battle ensues. The end.

Now let me tell you what "Meet the Spartans" really is. Running just a hair over 60 minutes (followed by end credits that last—I kid you not—a staggering, world records-busting 19 minutes), the film mainly consists of actors standing on a single set that looks to be the size of a high school auditorium stage. As they continue to grow roots on this window-dressed set, they are confronted by 2006's and 2007's pop culture history happening before their eyes. Among those referenced that magically show up in front of Leonidas and his men: celebs Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Dane Cook; "YouTube" sensation Chris Crocker; films "Happy Feet," "Shrek," "Stomp the Yard" and "Transformers;" television programs "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars," "America's Next Top Model," "Let's Make a Deal" and "Ugly Betty;" video game "Grand Theft Auto," and the Ice Breakers liquid ice mints and Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" ads. All of the above and more are not actually skewred, spun or cleverly lampooned in any way, they are simply recalled by the use of look-alike actors or verbatim line quotations (i.e. "Save the cheerleader, save the world," from NBC drama "Heroes") and expected to be amusing simply because the viewer "gets" them. Lest someone misses a reference or two, not to worry; it can be guaranteed that a person onscreen will spell it out by announcing what the reference is.

The actors, including Sean Maguire (TV's "The Class"), Carmen Electra (2005's "Cheaper by the Dozen 2"), and Ken Davitian (2006's "Borat") as the evil, multipierced Xerxes, flounder. They by and large do not understand how to pull off one-liners or physical comedy, though this may be because one-liners are scarce and the physical comedy is haphazardly directed, incompetently shot and rhythmlessly edited. Meanwhile, basic skills learned in any elementary filmmaking class are overlooked, including continuity and some of the most egregiously bad dubbing that has ever been put forth on a multiplex screen. When a long, piercing scream is recorded over a slow-motion medium shot of a character with their mouth closed, you sort of get the picture that all bets are off.

"Meet the Spartans" is a deadening atrocity, as bereft of ambition and wit as a comedy can get. The solitary earned laugh occurs within the opening minute and from there the only thing to be heard is the sound of embarrassed, uncomfortable silence. The film hasn't the foggiest idea what constitutes for genuine humor, a snide and tasteless remark about the late Anna Nicole Smith perhaps being its unimaginable nadir. Entertainment value is nonexistent as well; at least with a Uwe Boll movie like the recent "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale," the ineptitude is diverting and one senses that Boll's failure isn't for a lack of trying. Here, in a film meant to be funny, the viewer's reaction is one of despair and defeated mournfulness. Writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have zero interest outside of the monetary funds the gig is earning them, and even less respect than that for their audience, who are counted on to bust a gut over the mere sight of two men kissing or Britney Spears shaving her head. In the year 2008, is this all it takes for something to open wide across the country on 2500 screens? Really? God help us. "Meet the Spartans" is a downtrodden cinematic vacuum—a sickening, derivative, shallow, condescending, utterly worthless piece of shit.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman