Plot Plot Plot
So a couple of weeks ago, a guy who hired me to read his script told me that because it was a comedy, plot wasn't important; in fact, he felt that the minimal amount of plot he'd added was going beyond what was necessary.
Plot is everything in movies; you really can't make a funny movie without plot. All those Marx Brothers movies? Plot. Charlie Chaplin? Plot. The 40-Year-Old Virgin? The plot doesn't do a lot of real heavy lifting, but it is there.
Too many "comedies" make the mistake of having a dumb plot, that is barely there. This past weekend's "Kickin' It Old Skool" is an example. A guy wakes up after 20 years in a coma, and still wants to breakdance. That's not a plot, it's a premise, and a flimsy one at that.
The best comedies are built on a very solid structure, that does all the heavy lifting, so that the laughs don't have to.
This was brought home to me last night when I watched the Chevy Chase comedy "Fletch", a special edition DVD for my DVD-reviewing gig. (An aside -- for a special edition DVD, it has crappy bonus features. Don't bother).
Fletch is an amusing comedy, but what works about it is that it borrowed a surprisingly solid investigative storyline from the novel of the same name (which was much more darkly-comic, and very different in tone). It's a plot that easily could have carried a more serious movie -- reporter Fletch investigates drug dealing on the beach, as well as trying to figure out why a guy has hired Fletch to kill him -- and uses it to drive the script, while all the funny stuff can be worked in along the way.
And it works. And it's the kind of thing that was done a lot more in the 1980s -- the best examples of this meld of solid detective storyline and comedy are Beverly Hills Cop and the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines movie Running Scared (which is a personal fave).
But recently, this kind of thing has fallen out of favor, the idea of letting a comedian have fun in the constraints of what could have been a dramatic investigative storyline. I guess the Rush Hour movies do it (but even then, that's going back a decade). There really isn't anything that comes to mind recently that has made use of this genre.
Maybe the blame goes to the Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch sequels, which pretty much blew the idea, though that may have been because the plots got dumber and less convincing in those films. You don't need a big bad guy or huge amusement park setpieces, all you need is a solid enough central plot that the main character can have fun around.
Laughs are important too. But having a good plot makes it all a lot easier.
Can anyone else think of examples of this kind of story, that works or didn't work, particularly recently? Any theories as to why this kind of film fell out of popularity?