Monday, March 5, 2012

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012)

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
Dir. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim

4 out of 5

Picking right up where their eponymous sketch series Awesome Show, Great Job left off, alternative comedy duo Tim and Eric deliver a discursive and disturbingly hilarious satire of pop culture with Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie. The two comedians, playing themselves, squander the outlandish budget given to them by the Schlaaang corporation for producing a three-minute Hollywood romance starring "Johnny Depp," running afoul of bloodthirsty CEO Tommy Schlaaang (a go-for-broke Robert Loggia), who demands that they pay back the immense sum. Lured by the promise of easy profits, Tim and Eric skip town to run a mall that turns out to be a dilapidated mess - strewn with garbage, infested with vagrants, and reliant on strange proprietors selling useless goods. The narrative is interspersed with Tim and Eric's signature parodies of commercials, training videos, and other ephemera from the VHS/public access era, fleshing out the details of the film's uniquely bizarre world.

Tim and Eric's comedic sensibility is based on slow-burning discomfort and short bursts of aggressive grotesquerie, so it's somewhat shocking that it translates at all to the big screen. After a touch-and-go first act that takes aim at the straw man of movie-biz phoniness, the comedians fall back on their onstage personae to create surprisingly compelling characters: Tim's the ambitious but mean one, a ruthless leader and manipulator, and Eric is the myopic optimist, the long-suffering, guileless Lewis to a fiendishly charismatic Martin. The Schlaaang issue becomes secondary to their casually hateful rivalry in romancing a sixty-something shop owner (Twink Caplan). But they're clearly better, and funnier, as a team. Their well-developed rapport forms the basis of the movie's occasional brilliance, like a scene where Tim cajoles a salesman's child to disown his biological father (simultaneously demoting the man to janitor) and become his adopted son while Eric blindly chimes in with his approval.

Despite the film's advertised celebrity cameos - including Will Ferrell, Zack Galifianakis, and John C. Reilly as a sickly transient with a heart of gold who cheerfully blurts out things like "I wasn't meant to live long!" - it was clearly made with hardcore Tim and Eric fans in mind, and little else. That's admirable in its own way, but means that Billion Dollar Movie is not for the uninitiated. It's also the most uncompromising and transgressive American comedy in quite some time, a twisted commentary on modern life that questions all the choices we make, from how we entertain ourselves to the ways we seek spiritual comfort. If anything, Tim and Eric is about the power of pure friendship - a rambling, visionary ode to the rarity of finding someone who's always on the same wavelength as you, sticking by your side no matter what inexplicably weird and repulsive obstacles life presents. (Diarrhea included.)

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