ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, December 30, 2005

Who's Bringing the Funny?

Harkening back to my post about movies needing to be excellent or fun, there's no doubt that most of the surprisingly-successful movies this year were the comedies.

The ones that worked -- "Wedding Crashers" (which is the second-highest grossing R-rated comedy ever) and "The 40-Year Old Virgin" were both very big moneymakers. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" made a ton of money.

And even the movies that just suggested that there might be fun to be had (even if they didn't quite deliver), like "The Pacifer", or "The Longest Yard", or "The Dukes of Hazzard" did better than they had any right to. Meanwhile, the comedies that didn't seem much fun, like "Elizabethtown" or "Guess Who", tanked.

The odd thing now is that we're in a period where there aren't a lot of real comedians dominating movies. Pretty much the big go-to comic guys right now are Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who are more actors-doing-comedy than true comedians.

Steve Carell is more of a true comedian, but the jury's still out on whether he can sustain his movie career.

The days of dominant funnymen like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy seem to be over. Martin is doing family movies and serious roles, while no one seems to be excited at all about the specter of seeing him in "The Pink Panther", the release of which keeps getting pushed back and back and back. Murphy keeps doing silly family movies; he hasn't even done an R-rated movie since "Life", way back in 1999. There is no edge to his comedy any more, but then again there is no edge to most comedy any more.

So who's left? Adam Sandler has his fans, but it has been a while since he turned out an honestly funny movie. Aside from voiceover work, Mike Myers has largely vanished, while Dana Carvey is a second banana at best. None of the other former SNL people are doing much, not even Will Ferrell, whose peak in "Old School" and "Elf" seems to be sliding away.

Will Smith has been in a few funny movies; so has Ice Cube. But is this what black comedy has come to? Former rappers? Meanwhile, no one will go to a Bernie Mac or Cedric the Entertainer film until they make one that is actually funny.

Even guys like Kevin Smith and Woody Allen don't make funny movies any more.

Most of the stand-up comedians seem to be running to TV, where there is a lot of money to be made, but where it seems to suck out most potential for a movie career. Jerry Seinfeld might be one of the most successful comedians ever, but can you picture him in a movie? I can't.

Maybe one of the causes for the lax box office is that there just isn't a single comedian who is so funny/consistent, that just the news of a new movie starring them will get people lining up.

I'm not sure whether this is good news for screenwriters or not. Certainly the lack of a go-to comedian means that there is more of a demand on scripts to be excellent. This seems to be the case in animated films, where funny truly means more successful; arguably Shrek is the biggest star funnyman out there.

But as long as dumb live-action comedies starring guys like the Rock keep making money, maybe script quality isn't important enough either.

17 Comments:

At 2:03 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

"Maybe one of the causes for the lax box office is that there just isn't a single comedian who is so funny/consistent, that just the news of a new movie starring them will get people lining up."

Well, that used to be Jim Carrey.

 
At 2:59 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Oh yeah. Forgot about him. (which means something in and of itself).

But he's been very inconsistent of late too. Bruce Almighty could have been much, much better, and word on Fun With Dick and Jane isn't very good at all.

He's going to have to knock out a truly funny movie to win fans back.

Jack Black is another guy who should be churning out funny movies much more regularly. While Ben Stiller needs to make fewer movies, and funnier ones.

 
At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Donald McRonald said...

I'd actually cite the decline of Saturday Night Live as a contributing factor.

In the past, SNL was like a gold mine for talented comedians. It gave us Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, David Spade, and a host of other actors who went on to make a funny movie or two.

But now? It's slipped big time. Is there anyone on that show who's actually funny? Will Ferrell is the last that I can remember, and his movies have mostly been mediocre.

For the most part, SNL isn't funny and its cast members aren't funny either. The effect on Hollywood is that studios can't just pluck a talented comedian from the show and put him in a movie. Without that handy reserve of potential comedy stars, they've been left to try all sorts of alternatives (Johnny Knoxville, Steve Carell, etc.). So far no one has really emerged from the experiments as a bankable star.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Help me on this one. What does "in and of itself" mean? I understand "in itself" but "of itself"?

Sorry, I get analytical when I drink too much egg nog.

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I don't know. It's a context vocabulary thing.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Konrad West said...

I think it's probably a good thing, since with comedians with box office draw, the scripts tend to be crap, since everyone just relies on the funniness(?) of the comedian.

I think that's why Hitch was good: Will Smith and Kevin James are funny, but not enough to carry a movie. So with a half-decent script like Hitch, you've got a winner.

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger Brett said...

I paused to ponder this topic for a moment (which is a nasty habit to fall into) and suddenly realized that we might be working from a flawed premise.

You suggest that there are no more major tentpole funnymen to anchor a movie, but when was that ever truly the case? What Richard Pryor movie was a surefire instant day one success due specifically to RP's involvement? Eddie Murphy? Yeah, I can remember liking BEVERLY HILLS COP and 48 HOURS, but in both cases I clearly recall people bveing surprised that this young punk from SNL was doing such boffo BO.

THE GOLDEN CHILD, anyone? BOOMERANG? LIFE?

I think maybe we're looking through nostalgiac rose-tinted blinders. I think the truth is what it's always been: put comptent people in a well-written funny movie, and people will pay to see it. But toss big name faces out there with assclown scripts, and you get theatrical roadkill.

Seriously-- look back on what movies did well in the past few years and in pretty much every case you will find a movie which at heart was a well-written story. Then look at the disasters and more often you'll find big-name talent trying to distract audiences from the fact that the underlying script might as well have been crapped out by illiterate chimpanzees.

I think it was Vince Vaughn who explained that he would allow himself to take a chance on one of the three critical elements of a project: the director, the script, or the character. If he loved two of the three, he could sometimes afford to roll the dice on the third.

The "big downturn of 2005" might just be the collective anxiety of an industry beginning to realize the self-evident truth of Vaughn's wisdom-- you can't just throw a star or a director or a character out there and expect it to work as entertainment. That's like putting one leg on a milkstool and saying "that oughta do it-- people will buy this and sit on it."

Maybe, but not many, and not often.
.
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B

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Dave R. said...

Jack Black will change your minds, two words "Nacho Libre".

I think the guys from "Jackass" are funny and they have the ability to reach across cultures and generations. My mother laughed at the DVD, of course she would have never watched it if I didn't practically force her to.

Some might argue that the "Jackass" guys aren't comedians. Were the three stooges comedians? They both make be laugh, that's good enough for me.

Perhaps you should reconsider your definition of comedian. Vince Vaughan looks like he has a big hit comming with "the break up", maybe as big as "Wedding Crashers". As far as I'm concerned that guys is the new Jack Nicholson; who technically isn't a comedianeither , but he can be pretty damn funny when he wants to be.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Julie Goes To Hollywood said...

I knew a professor in film school who said there's a tragedian inside every comedian who's dying to come out. When it does, it's often kind of scary. He cited Chaplin's later career, but how scary was Jim Carrey in The Majestic? I suppose Bill Murray can pull off soulful, except in Broken Flowers, when, yeah, he was scary. Robin Williams even looked scary in the previews for One-Hour Photo, which I'm guessing is why nobody went.

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

I know what you mean.

That National Lampoons Christmas movie with Chevy Chase was on TV the other night, and whilst being a little dated I did chuckle along. When it was over I was trying to think of an actor like Chevy Chase that is doing the rounds now and couldn't come up with any.

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger Lab Lemming said...

Brett, the tentpole comedian theory works on ther assuption that the comedians are writer/actors- people who write and perform their own stuff. Examples: Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghost Busters, Woody Allen in everything.

As don pointed out, for many years, SNL gave comedians an opportunity to write and perform for camera. If it isn't funny any more, then you have to ask why the show's producers aren't finding comedic talent who can work well with TV.

Because without those people, you lose the link that lets people who are funny in pubs become funny on screen.

 
At 12:29 PM, Anonymous The Constipated Writer said...

I think it's a little premature to state Kevin Smith doesn't make comedies anymore. Especially since Clerks 2 is his next release. Jersey Girl, for all it's troubles, was not exactly a drama either.

But I'll admit Eddie Murphy is a travesty. Trading Places is about as good as a comedy can get, and now we get Dr. Doolittle. Blec!

 
At 4:55 AM, Anonymous Dave R. said...

I got it!

Dave Chappelle!

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger Mark said...

I'm waiting for the resurgence of the dark comedy.

Mark
Mark's Screenwriting Blog

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Julie O. said...

It's already been broughten.

 
At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Scott --

Great subject. I'm working on a comedy script right now and for the life of me I can't think of a comedic actor that's exactly right for the role -- unless I can resurrect Chris Farley or John Candy somehow...

Anyway, I was wondering do you have any favorite comedy scripts (produced or unproduced) that you wouldn't mind sharing?

CD

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger One.Day.Past.Dead said...

Oh, that we could resurrect Richard Pryor, too soon gone ahead. I still smile when I order too much Chinese food -- "you order shit, you eat shit" or pass my particularly nasty-assed riding his lawn mower without thinking about Mister Johnson's property. As for Steve Martin in the Pink Panther -- well, that dig don't beat for me.

 

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