If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, big studio Hollywood hitmakers should consider themselves lauded to the max in Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s “Epic Movie,” the latest (and epically unfunny) entry in the movie parody franchise. Based on the dubious theory that recognition is 99% of comedy, pic indiscriminately references recent popular movies from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to “Nacho Libre” to “The Chronicles of Narnia,” extravagantly expending elaborate sets, special-effects, music, costumes and actor look-alikes for the sake of a few lame gags and a legion of crotch-kicks. Weak “Epic” seems unlikely to join the list of blockbusters it lampoons.
Four orphans, each violently ejected from a different movie — Lucy (Jayma Mays) from “The Da Vinci Code,” Edward (Kal Penn) from “Nacho Libre,” Susan (Faune Chambers) from “Snakes on a Plane” and Peter (Adam Campbell) from “X-Men” — find golden tickets that take them to a chocolate factory where a Depply-attired Crispin Glover, aided by Burton-esque singing-dancing munchkins, plots to use their body parts to enhance his candy.
They escape through a wardrobe and land in Gnarnia, ruled by the White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge).
Friedberg and Selzer, the writing team responsible for one-third of the first “Scary Movie” and all of “Date Movie,” have completely abandoned even the pretense of genre parody here. First, there is no recognizable genre being parodied, unless high-grossing films have become a brand unto themselves.
Furthermore, many of the films that Friedberg and Selzer are supposedly spoofing are already broad parodies, such as “Nacho Libre.” And, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Snakes on a Plane” — plus exponents of blacker humor like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — qualify as over-the-top tongue-in-cheekers that hardly take themselves seriously.
Even pretentious, lofty films that might be ripe for rug-pulling, like “Narnia” and “The Da Vinci Code,” are mocked in non-threatening, scatological ways that have only tenuous ties to the originals. The entire “Snakes” takeoff consists of attaching serpents to women’s breasts and men’s genitalia, while the “Nacho Libre” imitation boasts a ringer for Jack Black and some stray vomit gags.
Even when the scripters come up with a reasonably droll idea, such as showing Harry Potter and friends old and decrepit and still claiming to be 14, the sketch falls apart in the follow-through, as though a gag blueprint were as good as a fully executed joke.
Thesping, on the other hand, is often quite accomplished. Coolidge makes for a nifty, zaftig ice queen, while Mays (the ditzy reservation clerk in “Red Eye”) sells a lot of so-so bits — such as instinctively drop-kicking a talking CGI beaver every time it appears — by dint of her well-timed, wide-eyed-innocent delivery.
Tech credits are uneven. Ed Shearmur’s score sounds more like the real deal than a put-on, while Frank Helmer’s costumes range from the deliberately idiotic to the quasi-historic.