This week’s question comes from A.V. Club reader Joe Rumrill:
What is something you consider a very funny or memorable gag/scene from an otherwise not-so-good comedy? My personal examples include: The dog smashing like a ceramic in this scene from Jane Austen’s Mafia!; The prisoners each giving a little “thank you!” and the train peeking out from behind a tree in Wrongfully Accused; and the eagle egg sequence in Almost Heroes.”
I know a lot of people out there like Dirty Work, but I am not one of them. Norm MacDonald’s a genius, but he’s much better within a realistic framework—like, say, a talk show—than he is carrying a fictional movie. At some point, one of the movie’s acolytes convinced me it’d be worth watching, and so I joylessly sat through it—except for one part, which I still love. An extremely self-aware, self-described “homeless guy” begins lyrically describing his descent into transience, melancholy music swelling in the background, before MacDonald shoves money in the man’s face and says, “Here’s your two dollars.” It’s one of the few moments that reminded me of MacDonald’s blunt, smart-ass persona outside of the movie. It helps that it’s a quote you can use (albeit slightly modified) any time you owe someone a few bucks.
Hot Tub Time Machine kind of sucks. It’s a dopey post-millennial Back To The Future that basically squanders the possibilities of its wish-fulfillment premise—“what if you could go back to your glory days and steer around the rut your life would eventually sink into?”—in favor of lazy remember-the-’80s gags and sleepwalking performances from its cast. But there’s one half-way ingenious bit in the film, and it involves George McFly himself, Crispin Glover, as a surly, one-armed bellhop. Except he only has one arm in the present-day scenes. Once our main characters get sucked back to their 1986 heyday, they keep running into the character at a younger, happier, two-armed age. The running gag is that the characters, and the audience, keep waiting for him to gruesomely lose that appendage, but every potentially mutilating situation he gets himself into—like juggling chainsaws or letting the elevator door shut on a loose limb—ends with him completely unscathed. It’s not an all-time gut-buster or anything, but in a movie as consistently uninspired as Hot Tub Time Machine, you take whatever stray chuckle you can get.
The cinematic crimes of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer need not be enumerated in this space; there have been periods in The A.V. Club’s life during which the site functioned as the filmmaking duo’s personal Judge Dredd, a reference Friedberg and Seltzer might recognize as a character that could be crammed into and then farted upon in a future script. (This parody of dystopian media, a follow-up to The Starving Games, will be titled The Handmaid’s Fail, and it’ll make money hand over fist.) But their watering down of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker’s kitchen-sink comedies can claim one genuine laugh amid dozens of weak punchlines and games of “Hey, remember this?”: The Lonely Woman’s Dinner briefly glanced in 2006's Date Movie. Yes, it’s another reference, but it’s one with a shelf life longer than six months, and it’s a sight gag that this type of movie was made for: dad-joke-level wordplay, silly imagery, blink and you’ll miss it timing. For a split second, you get the sense that Friedberg and Seltzer have actually seen the movies whose style and density their work apes but never duplicates. And no, that’s not a wink at the film’s inexplicable King Kong finale, but now that I’m reminded of it, I could use my own Angry Man microwave dinner.
I love nonsensical gags that come out of nowhere and get time to breathe without anyone acknowledging that something absurd just happened, and while Scary Movie 3 is pretty awful in every other way, it does have one excellent example of that kind of joke. Near the end of an extended Signs parody, there’s a scene where three characters played by Anthony Anderson, Charlie Sheen, and Simon Rex are holding shovels as they prepare to fight off some aliens. After hearing something rustling in a nearby cornfield (because it’s a Signs parody), Anderson casually pumps his shovel like a shotgun, complete with the appropriate sound effect and an ejected shell. Nobody spoils it with a line about “loading the shovel” or whatever, they just trust the audience to recognize that something weird happened and move on. It’s a lot funnier than it has any right to be, even if Scary Movie 3 is supposedly one of the better installments, and I don’t think anyone would mind if a better movie just straight-up stole it.
Call me a Philistine, but I’ve never gotten onto the wavelength of the Broken Lizard guys. (And trust me, my inability to pick up on Super Troopers references did me no favors while trying to survive in the cutthroat college improv scene and it’s constant, bewildering meows.) There’s one moment in the group’s 2006 offering, Beerfest, that’s always tickled me, though, mostly as an example of a movie expressing a kind of gleeful contempt for its own storytelling choices. Two-thirds of the way through the film, Kevin Heffernan’s character, Landfill, gets killed off, drowned in a vat of beer. One scene later, his friends are mourning him (and their chances in the titular tournament), when who should walk in but Phil’s identical twin brother, Gil. (Also Heffernan.) Explaining that he knows all of them by reputation—and thus has no need to change the established character dynamics—he finishes his introduction by asking them to just go ahead and call him “Landfill,” too, essentially erasing the character’s death from the film. There’s a slight payoff to this change-up later on, but the intent is clear: Everybody involved knows the plot doesn’t actually matter, so why not fuck around and have a little fun?
I have a shred of appreciation for Jared Hess’ Nacho Libre (mostly for the amazing real-life priest-turned-luchador who inspired it), but I’d never go so far as to call it a good movie. It’s a culturally insensitive mess of stitched-together slapstick and toilet humor. But there is one tiny moment that cracked me up at the time and has stuck with me for god knows what reason. Having watched Jack Black’s Father Ignacio get his face punched in, his sidekick Steven buys him some elote and tries to hand it to his defeated friend. Ignacio barely even turns to look at the gesture before screaming, “Get that corn out of my face!” and slapping it to the ground. There’s something about this scene that at least gets a chuckle out of me whenever I see it—the combination of awkward pauses, Black’s explosive over-the-top shriek, and, perhaps most importantly, the silent shot of those corn cobs lying in the dirt, as sad and rejected as the man who so savagely put them there.
Allow me to preface this by saying that I own a copy of 1987's Amazon Women On The Moon on DVD, purchased with my own money in the mid-2000s. I am a fan. That said, I recognize (largely thanks to foisting it on my unamused wife) that a lot of my affection for it is nostalgia-based. The John Landis-produced Amazon Women is a loose assemblage of dated sketches from directors like Joe Dante and Robert K. Weiss, structured around spoofing quaint, late-night TV fare like infomercials and Z-grade 1950s sci-fi movies, as well as some thoroughly ’80s stuff like video dating. It’s mostly notable for the chance to see actors like Michelle Pfeiffer, Carrie Fisher, and Steve Guttenberg struggle through sub-SNL skits. But there are still some parts I love (Ed Begley Jr. as a nude, not-so-Invisible Man; David Alan Grier as the corny Don “No Soul” Simmons; the Ripley’s spoof “Bullshit... Or Not?!”), even as I recognize that they are, objectively, one-note and not especially clever. That said, I will unabashedly defend one segment that is, ironically, one of its least inventive and most dated: “Video Pirates,” in which Blacula star William Marshall leads a gang of literal pirates (including Donald “Ogre” Gibb!) in storming an MCA Home Video ship to plunder its booty of VHS tapes and laserdiscs. There’s just something about the commitment to the stupid literalism of this bit I respect—and to this day, I can’t see the FBI warning without muttering to myself, “Ohhhh, I’m sooo scared.”
I enjoy Zoolander more than the movie probably merits. But there’s something about how joyfully all-in the movie plays the idea of fashion models as the fulcrum on which all historical tragedies rests that still just tickles me after all these years. The same can’t be said of its ill-conceived and poorly executed sequel, Zoolander 2. It continues the story from the original without first figuring out if it has anything to say—and worse, any good jokes to tell. It’s a flat, loveless thing… with one exception. Hansel, Derek Zoolander’s sometime-rival, sometime-best friend is introduced as being in an unsatisfying committed relationship with an orgy who all act as a single entity opposite of Hansel. When Hansel makes an ill-fated trip to Rome, he discovers love again with a new orgy. When his old orgy seek him out to confront him, Hansel unsuccessfully attempts to hide his new love in a closet not designed to store more than half a dozen people. It’s a climax to a gag that combines my favorite kinds of humor: well-choreographed physical comedy and a big cartoonish assortment of weird people.
Going to see Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back in the theater was one of the worst moviegoing experiences of my young life. As I sat there, mortified by what was unfolding in front of my eyes, I desperately wished I could be somewhere, anywhere, other than watching that movie. But then I got to the scene where Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play themselves making Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. Affleck almost ruins it with his decision to mug through the entire fake scene, but something about the sequel concept makes me laugh every time, as does watching Damon pull out a shotgun and blast away the very same guy from the original drama. Plus, the best throwaway gag is having Gus Van Sant play himself as the director, briefly seen just counting his money while the film-within-a-film plays out pointlessly before him. As an added bonus, it’s preceded by a short scene where Damon refers to Affleck as “Bounce boy,” which is just a good burn.