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Are Movies Dumber Than Ever?
by Jon Schuller

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I may be going out on a limb here but I am truly concerned about what's being released for the last few years. Along with mind-numbing television "reality" programs, films are going out of their way to present us with otherwise normal human beings behaving like little kids. Is it simply an attempt for a fast buck at the box office? Are established actors and actresses succumbing to the temptations their agents offer? When the screen-writers of these vehicles run out of same-as-before plots and scripts will they look for other jobs?

I cannot remember exactly when I began noticing what I consider a disturbing trend in this genre in movies. I can remember having to sit through a DVD showing of Talladega Nights (The Legend of Ricky Bobby) with Will Ferrell. I thought at the time it was, without a doubt, the worst movie I'd ever seen. Mr. Ferrell's on-screen talents appear to me to be limited to playing silly characters doing dumb things. The Other Guys confirmed my suspicions as improv'd scenes quickly devolved to exchanges of dumb lines. I have no doubt there is an audience for this
type of film but humor comes in many guises; I fail to "get" it.

There are several actors who inhabit this world and some readers will probably say these men are always working because audiences like them. I will readily admit that nothing succeeds like success. Maybe, when times are tough, we need escapist fantasies or silly stuff to help us temporarily forget our troubles. Maybe, we're seeing a rebirth of those "screwball comedies" of the 1930's and 1940's when Carole Lombard made fun of conventional thinking with "serious" male co-stars. Those films in my opinion were early experiments (by some great directors) to break with traditions and laugh at troubles. Somehow I am not certain that today's movies are equal to the task.

Do Vince Vaughn or Kevin James' films look the same every time they're released? Are there any noticeable differences between Mall Cop and Zookeeper? How about these two: Dodgeball or Thumbsucker? I can definitely do without Jim Carrey altogether. As I channel-surf my television I can't help but notice how many once-reputable networks now showing
(almost exclusively) reality programs. Bravo, TLC, The History Channel, not to mention the dozens of other programs everywhere being watched daily. Maybe it's the chicken or the egg theory: movies following television or just the opposite? What has come first: bad television or bad movies? Probably a bit of both I daresay.

Adam Sandler is popular. Ben Stiller is popular. There is a host of others, character players who fit the usual cookie-cutter plots, with silly beginnings, middles and ends. We've seen some respected senior actors inhabiting this world too. Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman appeared in the "Fokker" films. And let's not forget the tried-and-true gimmick: the pratfall. The cinema has depended on physical humor for decades, allowing respectable citizens to fall down, slip on bananas, fall from cliffs in cars, sailboats, wagons and you-name-it. But seeing people getting seriously hurt (or worse) is not my idea of humor. Maybe the viewing public has become jaded, almost numb, to whatever is being shown. A recent Supreme Court ruling allows violent video games to
be sold to young people. Our tolerance for "anything goes" has become less and less critical. Until the film-going public says "No more dumb" we'll continue seeing these sillies.

Is this to be an on-going trend? I love movies and do all I can to see (and discuss) what I consider better films: better acting, better plots, better dialogue, better directing and better locations. Life does repeat itself. We've all experienced some sort of déjà vu from time to time. That saying, "Been there, done that", does happen to everyone I guess. But considering the state of the economy I wonder how wise it is to spend multi millions on a film that's been done-to-death dozens of times already. How many aliens have to be killed (they're all nasty and bent on destroying us) until we get tired of them? I catalogue them as "seriously silly."

Maybe as I write this column some brave script-writer or director has come up with an idea for a truly humorous film, with gifted players and funny scenes. Would it be too much to hope for? Will dumb give way to smart or just more of the same, only dumb and dumber?

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Mike Thomas
Jun 30, 2011 1:21 AM
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You can't blame the Hollywood Mill Machine completely. That's like blaming NASCAR for beer drunks. Hollywood is a business, and they will produce a product people want to buy.

Name a recent movie that was critically acclaimed that was a blockbuster. Now name the movies that the critics panned, that made so much money that sequels were written before the first movie was released. Will we see The KING'S Speech II, or is The HANGOVER PART III being cast even now?

The sad truth is that even though Oprah (late Oprah, not early Oprah) represented quality talk show entertainment, she's off the air and Jerry Springer is still going strong.

People like crap. How can you explain 8 years of W., while Obama is still being defied as a non-American racist?

That's why DUMB ad DUMBER 3 is being pitched, JACKASS 4 is being worked on, and the EXPENDABLES is adding even more testosterone to its sequel.

And where is Hollywood getting their material? What do people buy? Video games, comic books and TV Shows. And Disney. Even as we speak, Disney is developing movies based on the Matterhorn Ride and The Magic Kingdom.

Give the public want they want. That mantra sells everything from Pet Rocks to a movie based on the board game Battleship.

Epilogue: REAL STEEL, the Hugh Jackman vehicle coming out later this summer, is a thinly-veiled version of "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Watch the trailer.

Mike Thomas
Jun 30, 2011 1:22 AM
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Oh, and good column, Jon. Love your observations.
Jun 30, 2011 6:53 AM
[X] delete
Thanks Mike. Your thoughts are always welcome.

Jun 30, 2011 12:18 PM
[X] delete
It's hard not to be cynical about movies when, like you say, the same movies come out week after week with the same actors playing the same asinine characters. I love how the promotions for Zookeeper proclaim "From the people who brought you Mall Cop." Is that supposed to be a selling point?

But with that being said, I like Will Ferrell and his movies (not all of them, some are just too silly). I find there's a charm and humanity behind some of his "dumb" characters that is severely lacking in the roles Adam Sandler and others play. And with the very good Everything Must Go, Ferrell proves he can play much deeper and more serious characters.

But, like Mike says, as long as people are shelling out the bucks to see this crap, they'll just keep making it. I'm sure there are warehouses full of great, intelligent, funny scripts that will never see the light of day.
Jun 30, 2011 2:02 PM
[X] delete
Thanks, Tim.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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