This weekend, Erin and I saw The Other Guys with the Sunday Night Film Club. While there were plenty of funny scenes, it was an overall disappointment as a film. I left the theater thinking that it could have been so much better - but then again, it was pretty much what I expected.
Last month, I re-watched Shaun of the Dead, and I think that it ruined most comedies for me for the next six months or so. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the two big hits from the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost trio, set a high standard for funny movies.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe what made them good and The Other Guys bad. For one, The Other Guys lacked a consistent tempo and voice. From one scene to the next, there was often a jarring disconnect that made it seem like four different directors just took turns doing ten minutes of the movie at a time, leaving behind a lot of funny scenes but a really terrible film. This played a big part, but I think the distinction is much simpler: subtlety. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety to The Other Guys - or Step Brothers, or Anchorman, or any other Adam McKay/Will Ferrell project, really. Anything that might be funny is thrown at the audience full-speed with the hope that some of it will stick.
Edgar Wright, by comparison, has a lighter touch. I haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (so I hope that one doesn’t make me out to be a fool), but Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead employed much quieter, subtler jokes that sometimes go unnoticed on the first viewing, but treat the audience like they are capable of enjoying something a little more mature than the film equivalent of shaking colorful keys. There are callbacks, there are things happening in the background of the scene, and there’s more to it than the lead character shouting nonsense.
There are other movies besides Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead that live up to this standard, of course, but these are two great examples of the kind of comedy that has ruined so many other comedies for me. I have seen how good a comedy can be, and so much of the dreck released lately is just disappointing in comparison.