Film: Loaded weapon
Here’s an interesting question: what separates parody from an ordinary comedy? You can try to simplify it and say that parody has to parody something, some conventional genre or even a particular film. But there's more than that, what's the difference between parody parodying a genre and a comedy belonging to that genre? They both use conventions of the genre, they both put a comic twist on them, in theory there's no difference. I remember an argument with a friend, about one of those "new teacher coming to a problematic school and eventually rehabilitating students and teaching them real values" films, it's name escapes me now; a rather re-hashed subject, from "to sir with love" onwards, I’ve seen the plot used in dramas, comedies, often in action films too - kind of surprising; so anyway: my friend claimed that the film was a parody; I claimed that is was not, as it lacked goofiness and straight face a parody needs.
I remembered this recently during writing one of the earlier blog entries, as it stroke me that what separates parody from ordinary comedy (I’ll refer to it as just "comedy") is not the subject: it's the nature of the world the story is happening in - the nature of film's.
In comedy, this universe is in mostly everything like ours. There are unusual elements in it that bring comedy, like quirky characters or circumstances filled with improbable coincidences, or whatever authors came up with. The thing is that film's universe, it's parts that aren't unusual, are aware of the nature of the unusual elements; they are aware that these elements are weird, cooky, funny, even though, being part of the universe and not it's observers (like us) they react to them different; thus very little comedy characters will laugh together with the audience.
Now, in parody, the entire world (film's universe, as I earlier referred to it) is unusual; thus things that are, when observed from our universe, unusual, aren't unusual to members of the film's universe; because, their point of view is unusual in the same way. That's where straight-faced tone of parodies is coming from: from their point of view, nothing funny is going on. in Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker collaboration "airplane", in fact, tragedy is taking place. From their point of view, that is.
On the other hand, in George Roy Hill's "Funny Farm", Chevy Chase and Madolyn Smith-Osbourne are surrounded by unusual that plagues their desired idyllic life, but they are well aware of the weirdness and as their viewpoint is set as primary, this film is a comedy even though everything in it but two main characters is unusual.
There are a few directors specialized in parodies. For one, there is Mel Brooks, whose palette spreads to western ("Blazing saddles"), horror ("Young Frankenstein"), pre-sound era film ("Silent movie"), SF ("Spaceballs"), hitchcockian thriller ("High anxiety") so much that his act has became parody of various film genres; even though his first feature, "Producers", wasn't a parody, it contained a parody in secondary frame: outrageous theatre play "springtime for Hitler". Brooks’s output has turned out to be extremely uneven, from god-awful films that don't deserve a decent laugh, to parodies that just hit the spot. There is a definite disagreement on which films are which, though probably everyone agrees that "History of the world" is, at the best, nothing special. His trademark actors include hysteric Gene Wilder, eccentric Dom Delouise, cross-eyed Marty Feldman and Madelyn Kahn, a living spoof of Ingrid Berghman.
Then again, he's not the only parody director. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker brought parodies that al least as extremely uneven as Brooks’s are, though probably more; "Airplane", “Top secret” in collaboration; later Zucker went on with the series “Naked gun” while Abrahams made "Hot shots"; they seem to have specialized to parodying particular films more than entire genres. Jerry Zucker later executed a few mellow, star-vehicle romances, like “Ghost” and “First knight” – nothing worth remembering.
Other parody directors seemed to have disappear faster than they appear, some of them being brothers Wayans, the brain (if any) behind the series "Scary movie" that just isn't worth the tape it's shot with, Joel Gallen’s "Not another teen movie" that managed impossible - to be even worse than "Scary movie", then Steve Oedekerk, one-man-filmcrew, with "Kung pow: Enter the fist"; Bob Kohher’s "Plump fiction"; omnibus by various directors named "Bogus witch project", and so on and on... Most of these I can't recommend for the reason of not having watched them, but I don’t think it’s a good sign that most of these directors are for-hire directors of commercials and music videos. Though, I can recommend Larry Blamire’s unusually subtle, affectionate 50ies horror spoof "Lost skeleton of cadavra"... Which is a topic for some other occasion.
But what's the reason most of these parodies shamefully backfire, even those of brooks and Abrahams/Zucker fame? I tend to repeat Martin Ebert’s saying that "there's a difference between parodying something and repeating it with a funny hat" and parody makers seem to have never quite worked out that difference. That means, in order to make a parody of something, you have to realize what is it that makes it prone to parodying: you have to find it's flaws and exaggerate them to the point of obvious and absurd; otherwise, your film is repeating these flaws not being aware of them, while concentrating on gags that basically aren't parodying anything from the actual film. Making a parody is analytic process which makes it probably tougher kind of comedy than, for instance, situational or character comedy. Parody makers, however, seem to think that making parodies is easy (which is why so many of them are made by debutants) - no dramatization needed, no characterization needed, if there are any holes and flaws, audience might think that they were intentional; the result is many bad parodies that pretty much sunk the whole genre recently.
The whole "repeat with the funny hat" routine can be seen best on example of "Spy hard", Rick Friedberg’s (another advertisements director), Leslie Nielsen-produced spoof of James Bond. There was never a more laughless comedy made: Nielsen repeats everything James Bond does; he drinks the special drink like James Bond; he drives a special car like Bond; young, pretty women fall for him like for Bond; we are supposed to laugh at the fact that Leslie Nielsen is an old man, while James Bond is supposed to be young, and so on through the whole film. Well, har har.
Then again, I’d like to put “Loaded weapon”, directed by Gene Quintano and produced by “National Lampoon” as an example of a good parody. “Loaded weapon” is a merciless parody of, first of all “Lethal weapon”, but also of “Basic instinct”, “Die hard” and many other police films and variety of police clichés. Taglines themselves are enough to make me laugh: “Oh my god! They have guns!”; “See it before they make sequel!”; “We’d like to have been nominated for 9 ACADEMY AWARDS!”.
“Loaded weapon” features Emilio Estevez as Jack Colt, screwed-up psychotic cop and Samuel Jackson as Wes Luger, his go-by-the-rules partner. Estevez has always had the appeal of teenage version of Michael Douglas or Mel Gibson whose skinniness and paleness served as a sort of opposition to masculinity of aforementioned; also, building his career on roles of outcast teenagers, Estevez brings this persona to the film: both are here used as parody elements. At that point, Jackson had built a fair reputation of supporting actor, perhaps even much more than of lead roles; And as partner of the main character in police films is for some reason very often black, Jackson suits just fine.
“Loaded weapon”, as many parodies, works by crowding the frame with gags, sometimes even too fast to glance in the time we’re given, so they require a second look. Films usually do this not for the subtlety of jokes, but for the hope that, if some jokes don’t work, others will. However, with films, jokes either work or not, regardless of how many of them there are.
I am of opinion that throwaway jokes in “Loaded weapon” usually work, at least at first watching; I can’t help but chuckle when a bottle of juice is shot through and leaks juice, and Colt puts a cup to fill it with juice; The irrationality of that action during the shootout crashes to a somewhat tempting desire to use the juice-leaking to refresh. Many other similar jokes work fine, like the one where the photo robot is made of a clay, and later, a person with a clay head is arrested: this joke wouldn’t have worked if the arrest scene wasn’t shown in the background of some action regarding the main story in first plane, where it could even skip unnoticed. Again, in a scene in marine, a Popeye is sighted; When Colt is creeping through canalization, he stumbles to Ninja Turtles; Figures.
But that’s just to add the flavour of farce. “Loaded weapon” is there for gags that directly mock cop films; As to illustrate what I earlier said about difference between parody and repeating with a funny hat on, there’s a scene where Colt tries to dismantle a bomb on a ship, until he finally throws it into the water, where it safely explodes; And then, a bunch of dead scuba-divers float to the surface. The gag obviously lingers on the premise usual in police films, that throwing the bomb into the water (or alternatively into the air) is perfectly safe, the next best thing to dismantling it. This is the kind of logic usual in cop films, a lack of regard to anyone but main characters: it is hard to assume that there is no one where the bomb is thrown; It’s easier to assume that there is no one that director cares about there. Thus, the thought “What if there’s a diver in the water?” is only logical.
Similar gag is the one where a camping car is trashed by a machine gun from a chopper. Only then, no other than Bruce Willis appears out of the car to explain that they have the wrong address and that they were looking for the car two numbers down the road. Another gag that is based on making a reality out of one obvious possibility that, curiously, never comes up in “serious” films. In another scene, Colt and Luger simultaneously have flashbacks at their child traumas that made them the way they are (one gun-nut, the other straight man); It is quite grating how many films use traumas from childhood as an instant characterization device, and I can’t help but to ask myself: “is it possible that there are so many people with traumas around?” ‘Cause I never noticed. But these films, even if expensive production, are often cheap in many other ways; young Luger, saying “The old lady died because I didn’t go by the rules. From now on I will always go by the rules” in an emotionless, robot like voice, the whole scene looking like taken from a video for learning a foreign language – nails it right at the spot.
Then I have to recall of two (obligatory) German guards who just shrug at sounds of Colt clumsily sneaking by: “Did you hear something?”; “No! Only a cracked cop would try to bust into this place!” Or perhaps the moment from the very beginning, when Colt answers to “Nice day” with “Nice day? You think we’re having a nice day...?” and a long-winded monologue about his shattered soul; Or the evil chief of police who yells for no reason and cancels the case for even less reason; There’s been a merciless mockery of cop clichés all over.
Of course, it doesn’t always work so great. Parody of a leg-crossing scene from “Basic instinct” is for instance, bland and funny-hat-like. Authors just can’t stop anything to hang on in this scene, and they simply can’t come up with a good gag. Cathy Ireland as Miss Destiny Demeanor acts a “fatal woman” just as good as Sharon Stone does; which means, she does it bad. But then again, she isn’t the main problem of this scene. There are other gags that don’t work quite well, but they don’t spoil the overall impression to me.
Now, “Loaded weapon” inevitably reminds me of one problem of good parodies – which means of parody as a genre: you need a pre-knowledge about the thing that is parodied. For getting “Lost skeleton of cadavra”, you need to have watched a plenty of old SF-horrors; “Airplane” is totally unfunny if you haven’t seen older disaster movies like “Airport ‘77”. “Spaceballs” gets away thanks to the fact that just about everybody knows outlines of “Star wars”, even if they haven’t seen the films. Such is the case with “Loaded weapon”; I remember seeing it with various people who haven’t laughed once during the film, even though I was ripping my lungs out; perhaps film wasn’t tackling their sense of humor, but I’m inclined to believe that they simply weren’t acquaintance with the things film was parodying.
But that’s inevitable, I guess, you need some kind of pre-knowledge for just about anything. If nothing, you need to know the language the film (or titles) is in. It’s just that pre-knowledge for parodies is a bit more specific.