Lazy, lame and painfully unfunny, “Meet the Spartans” is yet another scrambled-genre parody from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the same writer-director team that previously unleashed “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie.” Latest effort basically is an extended spoof of “300,” Zack Snyder’s celebration of testosterone-fueled, blue-screen-enhanced excess, interspersed with jokey references to reality TV shows, overexposed celebrities, popular vidgames and, apparently, anything else the filmmakers noted while channel-surfing between camera set-ups. Unfortunately, even the easiest targets emerge unscathed, because few of the jokes are at all amusing. Pic eked out a surprising opening-weekend tally of $18.7 million to top the B.O. chart, but expect a quick drop.
The wispy plot — really, little more than an excuse to connect scattershot comic blackouts — is a funhouse-mirror reflection of the original “300” scenario: Leonidas (Sean Maguire), the bulky, blowhardish king of Sparta, leads his relatively small army — in this case, 13, not 300, studly soldiers — against the vastly larger invading army of Xerxes (Ken Davitian), while, back home in the kingdom, the va-va-voom Queen Margo (Carmen Electra) rallies support for her husband even as villainous Traitoro (Diedrich Bader) behaves, well, traitorously.
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Friedberg and Seltzer dutifully reference all the dramatic highlights of their primary target. But the crude obviousness and dreary witlessness of their satire will turn off even the pair’s most undemanding fans.
Indeed, the conspicuous lack of response from a predominantly youthful aud at a general admission midnight screening is a dark portent of this comedy’s B.O. potential. Meanwhile, older ticketbuyers may find themselves wishing to see what, say, “SCTV” could have done with “300.”
The much-discussed homoeroticism of Snyder’s epic predictably is played for laughs here. (The Spartans are a campy group of guys who march — or, more precisely, skip — to a disco beat.) But after the 10th or 20th repetition of a gag about Leonidas’ leather underpants and the other scantily-clad Spartans — a gag that isn’t terribly funny the first time — even the more virulent homophobes in the audience likely will respond with groans, not giggles.
Repeating the M.O. evidenced in “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” Friedberg and Seltzer also pepper their new pic with parodies — some mercifully fleeting, others relentlessly prolonged — of recent (and a few not-so-recent) bigscreen and small-screen hits. (“Ghost Rider,” “Transformers,” “Happy Feet” and even “Deal or No Deal” figure into the mix.)
The unmistakable air of desperation hangs heavily over the entire production, as the filmmakers repeatedly resort to introducing celebrity lookalikes — doubles for Britney Spears, Tom Cruise, George Bush, the cast of “American Idol” — as nothing more than walking-and-talking punchlines.
It’s reflective of the pic’s insubstantiality and slapdash construction that, shortly after the closing credits begin to roll at the 65-minute mark, the filmmakers introduce deleted scenes — not outtakes but snippets obviously trimmed in the editing room — without any regard for continuity or coherence. It’s as though they figured that, what the hell, they went to the trouble and expense of shooting this stuff, and, by God, they were going to use it.
But here’s the telling part: The deleted scenes aren’t any more or less funny than the scenes that precede them.
Penny-pinched production values appear to be intended as another running gag. At least, that’s the charitable way of looking at it.