Another dark day for American cinema
Jesus Christ, America, what is with you? I thought it was a joke, a weird fluke that rendered Paul Blart, Mall Cop the number one movie last weekend, but I read the news today and I see that it’s number one for a second week, and on track to earn over $100 million at the box office. It’s already the first “blockbuster” of 2009. Yes, “blockbuster,” the same word applied to movies like Iron Man and The Dark Knight. That means that hundreds of thousands of people, not all of them with emotional disorders or organic brain dysfunctions, saw the trailer for this film, saw something in it that compelled them to think “Sweet Jesus, I must see that,” paid upwards of $10 to $11 for a ticket, possibly more if they took the kids and grandma, and enabled it to become currently the most popular movie in the United States. In second place is Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, an originally meant to be straight to DVD sequel in a horror series that manages to be both utterly incomprehensible and completely stupid. America has spoken, and it’s saying “Hollywood, we don’t give a shit about beaten down wrestlers or Indian game show contestants, what we love most are movies where fat men run into plate glass windows and bounce off of them in a hilarious manner, and versions of West Side Story where the Jets are werewolves and the Sharks are vampires. Rather than simply flushing handfuls of money down the toilet, which would be much faster, we’d prefer to do it in a more symbolic fashion. We cannot wait until the inevitable sequel Paul Blart, Homeland Security comes out. If you could find a way to incorporate a scene where Paul and a bunch of other fat guys have to dress up like the Village People, or even better where a sassy old lady or an orangutan gives someone the finger, that would be awesome. Thank you, Hollywood, for continuing to give into our collective bad taste and mediocre expectations.”
I may come off as a bit harsh, judgmental and elitist here, but goddamn, this is truly baffling. The existence of Paul Blart, Mall Cop has been unreasonably irritating to me ever since I first starting seeing trailers for it around Christmas. I’ve mentioned my distaste for it on both Twitter and Facebook. It bothered me not just because its trailers ran incessantly, but because it seems to be a movie that revels in its dumbed down, lowest common denominator entertainment value. This is not surprising, considering it was made by Adam Sandler’s production company, which, if Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Grandma’s Boy and The House Bunny are any indicators, makes movies for people with brains the size of walnuts. I could see absolutely nothing of value in it, and let me clarify that I enjoyed Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. It just seemed to be lame slapstick comedy based upon the tired old chestnut of “a hopeless loser somehow beats the odds to save the day,” where virtually all the jokes are based upon the title character’s considerable girth and social ineptitude, with a “star” who’s a B-list comedian best known for a mediocre sitcom (as opposed to his co-star on the sitcom, Patton Oswalt, who’s an A-list comedian best known for voicing the lead in the Academy Award winning Ratatouille). I know that by tradition January is the month when Hollywood dumps its garbage into theaters, clearing the way for the spring and summer releases, in the hopes that at best it’ll recoup its production costs. The pickings are always slim, and sometimes you end up going with what you hope will be the less stupid of two stupids. However, I was sure, dead certain that, despite its heavy marketing, Paul Blart would disappear just as quickly as it had been released. Given how fast movies like Disaster Movie and The Hottie and the Nottie dropped from the scene in 2008, I had hoped that audiences had moved past films made by people who think a fart joke is too high-brow. When Paul Blart was the number one movie last week, I was disappointed. When it was the number one movie this week, I was disheartened.
I’m occasionally chided when I rant about stuff like this, for criticizing people who only want a little escapist entertainment. I understand the need for escapism. The reason why musicals and light-hearted screwball comedies were released in force during the 1930s was for people to have a refuge from the real-life miseries of the Depression and the rumbles of war in Europe. Things aren’t looking so swell for us right now, either, so yeah, the need for something that will get your mind off your problems is quite reasonable. However, if you need to escape, and Paul Blart, Mall Cop is the only thing available at the theater, for Pete’s sake, read a book. Listen to music, take a walk, volunteer at an animal shelter, learn to paint, sort your loose change, darn a pair of socks, masturbate, bake some cupcakes or even just fucking take a nap for a couple hours, whatever, but stop giving these people your money. I’ve already said this in my post about Bride Wars a couple weeks ago but it bears repeating: if you keep going to see stupid, shitty movies made for imbeciles, Hollywood will continue making stupid, shitty movies made for imbeciles. They don’t know if you’re really that stupid or not. All they know is that you’d buy a ticket to see someone making shadow puppets, and that’s good enough for them. The evidence that most mainstream filmmakers don’t think very highly of audiences is apparent in a recent New Yorker article that reveals how movies are marketed: depressingly, it’s based largely according to stereotypes, i.e. young men prefer movies with explosions, gay jokes and tits, young women prefer movies with clothes, cute boys and a peppy soundtrack, older women prefer romance films and older men prefer films about war or tough guys like Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone. Nobody seems to prefer movies that require you to think, which is why movies like The Wrestler and Frost/Nixon spend weeks in limited release as “art films” before making a small blip in wider distribution. Neither film is likely to see more than a tenth of Paul Blart‘s profits, regardless of how many Oscars they take home.
In a way it’s comforting to know that people still have the money available to spend on this crap. Maybe the economy isn’t crashing and burning quite as furiously as the media would have us believe. On the other hand, it’s disconcerting to see how many people are quite happy to pay to be talked down to at the movies, whether because they honestly believe there’s nothing else better out there, or because they just don’t want to bother stretching themselves by seeing something “foreign” or “political” or “gay.” You’re better than Paul Blart, America. Stop this madness before someone comes up with a sequel to License to Wed (perhaps License to Breed, oh the horror) and is given a blank check by 20th Century Fox.