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Meet the Spartans Print E-mail
Monday, 20 October 2008
ImageApparently a form of response to the “Scary Movie” series, in recent years there’s been a flood of movie parodies, many of them written by the team of Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, who turned co-directors with “Date Movie.”  They carried on with “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie” and “Meet the Spartans,” a parody of “300.”  (Surprisingly, they weren’t connected to “Superhero Movie.”)  They reached their peak of quality, if that’s the right word, early, with the first “Scary Movie.”  It’s been pretty much downhill since then, with “Meet the Spartans” evidently one of the worst. 

It’s not just bad, it’s terrible, with nothing except, briefly, the performances of Kevin Sorbo, Diedrich Bader and Method Man to recommend it.  Like the other parodies, the movie largely replays scenes from their targets, tossing in smutty wisecracks, inflating everything with exaggeration (though it’s hard to exaggerate “300,” which was already nearly over the top), sprinkling impressions of stars throughout, whether appropriate or not, and tossing in other current pop cultural references—usually carefully and explicitly identified; the filmmakers clearly have a low opinion of their target audience’s intelligence and/or memory.

At their best—which isn’t very good—these movies achieve a few weak laughs.  They’re not sharp or well-observed enough to accomplish anything remotely resembling satire, they’re just lame spoofs, leagues below the level of, say, an average issue of “Mad” or an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”  They’re weary, perfunctory and obvious; they never offer any real insight into their targets, they just limply flail away until enough running time has been accumulated.  Here, that’s a scant 87 minutes; with a long credit roll and a bunch of bits too diffuse and unconnected to “300” to wedge into the movie, this is just barely feature length.

The filmmakers—the directors also wrote the script—seem to regard it as either protection against lawsuits from Warner Bros. or a form of humor—always refer to the pass of Thermopylae, where Leonidas and his legendary 300 Spartans held back the invaders from Persia, as “the Hot Gate.”  If that tickles you, you might be able to bear some of “Meet the Spartans,” but probably not very much of it. For one thing, the movie is painfully cheap—otherwise it couldn’t possibly return a profit.  There are only about four sets, an anonymous-looking Ancient Building (it has pillars), a small field, a small, blank-looking rocky pass and—well, maybe it has only three sets.  Instead of 300 Spartans, here Leonidas (Sean Maguire) has only 13 warriors, plus his pal, a nameless Captain (Kevin Sorbo, formerly Hercules).  The invading Persians number about the same.  There are only a couple of scenes where all the Spartans and Persians are grouped together, usually break dancing on a shiny floor that appears and disappears.

The story of “300” is followed faithfully; nothing whatsoever is added, just “funny” stuff.  When it’s a pop cultural reference, it’s labeled; when a badly made-up Sylvester Stallone appears, he’s not only wearing a belt that says “Rocky,” he’s identified by one of the onlookers.  The same happens with Paris Hilton (Nicole Parker); she’s the hunchbacked traitor of the story, but mostly looks (something) like Paris Hilton—and is identified by name.  Lots of other celebrities are impersonated; Parker isn’t good as Hilton, Paula Abdul or Britney Spears, but she’s on the nosey as Ellen DeGeneres (seen only during the end credits).  We also get lame, pointless impersonations of Stalllone as Rambo, Simon Cowell, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan, “Ugly Betty,” Donald Trump, President Bush, even (unaccountably) Twiggy.  Each of these pushes exactly one button—of course, the most obvious—and none of them is funny, except for Parker as DeGeneres.  They’re wastes of time and film—but utterly required in one of these by-the-book “spoofs.”

Weirdly, this junk is presented in high definition, which doesn’t matter here.  The images were muddy and bland in the first place—production designer William A. Elliott isn’t likely to get a lot of job bids from this unimaginative, chintzy-looking movie.  It looks like it had the budget of a 1960s Canadian children’s TV series.  Utterly nothing is gained by presenting this in high definition, but Fox gets to charge a little more for the Blu-ray discs.  With a sense of dismay, I suspect these spoof movies do well on home video; I assume guys gather their pals, get drunk, and play the movie in the background of a party, like a light show.

There are poop jokes, pee jokes, testicle jokes, gay jokes, fart jokes—everything is trotted out in a desperate effort that something, somewhere, might actually work.  “Happy Feet” is parodied with a killer penguin that talks like a black street dude.  “Shrek” gets a mention in the form of a barfing green baby.  “American Idol” is invoked repeatedly, and never evokes even a grin.  Even Harry Knowles and “Ain’t It Cool News” is represented. “Stomp the Yard,” oddly enough, gets trotted out, too; the resulting dance scene briefly injects the movie with a touch of energy.

Lead actor Sean Maguire seems to have been hired primarily because he can open his mouth really wide.  He’s intense, which is what the role requires, but he’s not funny, which the movie required.  Carmen Electra turns up in these things periodically, and she’s okay as Leonidas’ lusty queen, but she isn’t given much to do.  Kevin Sorbo, Method Man and Diedrich Bader each have a moment or two to shine, but mostly Sorbo is reduced to standing around in the background, smiling vaguely.  Xerxes, leader of the Persians, is played by Ken Davitian, the little fat guy from “Borat”—and is introduced AS “the little fat guy from ‘Borat,”” because the adolescent boys who are the prime target of these movies have the memory span of a damsel fly.  Most of the cast gets lively for the end credit rendition of “I Will Survive,” but it’s way too little, way too late.

I must offer my apologies to readers.  This movie was so shoddy, so unfunny, that I couldn’t force myself to watch any of the supplements other than the gag reel.  And I watched that to see if some laughs, any laughs, could be wrested from this material.  It was a losing fight—the gags are just the usual bits of actors forgetting lines, or laughing.  Give me strength.

If you buy or rent this despite what I’ve said, please don’t complain to me—I did warn you.

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