“Ham” is an excerpt from the first episode of “Rubberhead,” a web series highlighting weird shorts. It features the music of(under his “Dr. Oizo” musical moniker), acting of , and, foreseeably, the directing of . Those who are enticed by this idea won’t be disappointed.
DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux
PLOT: Los Angeles cops sell weed (hidden in dead rats), harass aerobics dancers, blackmail each other, and compose electronica; anything but fight crime.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With a few exceptions (like a fatally wounded music aficionado who refuses to kick the bucket), this black comedy is missing the unique conceptual meta-humor of Quentin Dupieux’s first two movies. It plays more like mildly edgy sketch comedy—it’s almost mainstream.
COMMENTS: One strange lesson you’ll take out of Wrong Cops is that American peace officers love European-style techno music. The other lesson is that, although Quentin Dupieux does surreal comedy well, his general outlook is too bemusedly sunny (a la genial absurdists like Monty Python) to create a truly biting satire about policemen behaving badly. True nastiness doesn’t seem to be in Dupieux’s makeup, so Wrong Cops ends up being more like Bad Grandpa than Bad Lieutenant. Although the movie’s cops are intended to be morally corrupt, only Mark Burnham‘s Officer Duke comes off as totally depraved; Eric Wareheim’s breast-obsessed patrolman, for example, is far too teddy-bearish to disturb, even when he’s forcing women to disrobe at gunpoint. The desire to make a black comedy about cops behaving badly mixes poorly with this director’s basic lack of cynicism. (The unexpected sweetness of Dolph’s search for his missing dog in Wrong was a better fit for his sensibilities). The not-quite-dead body that is never disposed of is one dark moment that works, as is Officer Duke’s spontaneous, pot-fueled eulogy about Hell on Earth that closes the film, but in general the somewhat flat comedy routines are more mild than wild.
With five cops to follow (plus a pair of gay officers who show up occasionally but don’t have a plotline of their own), there’s a lot going on, and Dupieux makes the movie into something of a L.A. block party by inviting a number of recognizable bit players. Eric Roberts stops by as a movie director, and Grace Zabriske is in there for a few minutes, while her “Twin Peaks” hubby Ray Wise has a slightly larger role as a police chief presiding at a funeral. Marilyn Manson (out of makeup) plays a hassled teenager; despite the fact that he’s in his forties, he is actually surprisingly convincing as a misfit kid. Unobtrusive but obvious references to Rubber and Wrong are also placed in the movie for Dupieux fans. The sprawling cast adds to the sketch-comedy feel, although the overarching plot (which is partly told out of sequence) is more carefully constructed than most viewers give it credit for: if Officer Duke never harasses David Delores Frank about his taste in electronica, the movie’s big tragedy never occurs. Dupieux’s core fan base will probably be pleased with this entry—and it does have its weirdly funny moments—but personally, I’m getting diminishing returns on his unique sense of humor with each subsequent film. The abstract meta-comedy that seemed rule-rewriting in Rubber has become expected and merely entertaining by the time we reach Wrong Cops.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
FEATURING: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, , Twink Caplan, Will Ferrell, William Atherton
PLOT: Two filmmakers in debt to their patrons take over management of a run-down
shopping mall, hoping to make back the money they owe and lose their fake Hollywood attitudes.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Heidecker and Wareheim’s recently-ended television series Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! was one of the outright weirdest shows on air, but their short skit format doesn’t translate as well to a feature-length film. There are various hilarious and strange moments, but as a whole it’s a disappointment compared to the show.
COMMENTS: Formatting itself as a film-within-a-film—which allows for several fourth wall-breaking moments and sarcastic plot breaks—Billion Dollar Movie is essentially a combination of several sketches dragged out into a clumsy, broken narrative feature. It opens with a series of infomercials of products to improve your viewing experience, segues into a fake 3-minute film starring a Johnny Depp impersonator, then finally brings us to our unflappable stars Tim and Eric, casting themselves as over-tanned Hollywood hacks who wasted a billion dollars on an unsellable movie that doesn’t even really star Johnny Depp. In debt to the Schlaaang Corporation who funded them and distraught over losing their extravagant lifestyle—which included the employment of personal guru Jim Joe Kelly (Zach Galifianakis)—the guys take a job as mall managers under the belief that they’ll receive a billion dollars for it. Their financial backers assume they’ve skipped town and go to violent lengths to track them down.
The mall itself is essentially a building-size set-up for several typical Tim and Eric characters and short sketches, only with more recognizable supporting cast members (which means fewer of their more disarming amateur regulars, though James Quall and few others make appearances). There’s the Top Gun-obsessed mall owner (Will Ferrell) and his sickly nephew of an indeterminate age (John C. Reilly), a man (Will Forte) who gets paid not to sell swords from his sword store, a mysterious cult leader (Ray Wise) promoting enlightenment through “Shrim”, a woman (Twink Caplan) who somehow is sexually attracted to both Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, and a proud seller of used toilet paper who passively allows his son to be unofficially adopted by a stranger. Oh, and don’t forget the man-eating wolf. He’ll get ya.
Flush with weird, unsettling jokes and plenty of gross visual gags, Billion Dollar Movie offers the type of humor and characters anyone familiar with Tim and Eric’s output might expect. There are moments that seem to blend horror and comedy in such an uncomfortable way as to produce only confused, visceral reactions (a feeling surely recognizable to fans of their work). There are moments that are truly bizarre and hilarious, including Jeff Goldblum’s introduction (as “Chef” Goldblum), the ridiculous digs at Hollywood culture, and the whole Shrim thing. Then, there are moments that just don’t work. Considering their brand of non sequitur, gross-out weirdness is hit and miss in short formats, it’s no surprise that a feature-length film doesn’t really suit Tim and Eric’s skills. There’s no driving force, with a flimsy plot structure and haphazard script that plods along from good joke to bad joke and boring segments in between. Even at its weirdest moments it seems tame compared to some of the sketches in the show, probably because everything is given more context and presented in more familiar terms.
For fans of the show it will likely be a disappointment, but it’s also hard to resist seeing for yourself. Just be ready for surprising amounts of nudity- even for them. I saw a lot of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim that I didn’t expect to ever see.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Cult weirdoes Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim define their small-screen oeuvre with delirious excess and unrepentant weirdness, but their cult television shows look positively austere compared to their cinematic directorial and starring debut, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.” –Nathan Rubin, The Onion AV Club (contemporaneous)
42 Below isn’t the only vodka brand to seek out oddball directors to help market their product. Absolut Vodka commissioned Tim, Eric, and Zach to make three commercials for their website. Having carte blanche, all Tim, Eric, and Zach had to do in each commercial was mention the product.
You can find episodes two and three towards the bottom of the uploads section in Eric Wareheim’s YouTube channel.
For some Adult Swim viewers, it was hard enough to believe that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s grotesquely odd television series received a second season. To their dismay, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! premiered season five (season “cinco”) in February of this year. Although the series focuses on comedy, Wareheim claims that the show is greatly influenced by the awkwardness of David Lynch‘s work.