Barely Laughing

A random fact about me that you may not know is that I enjoy watching bad movies.

Seriously, I do. And I’m not only talking about movies that are intentionally bad, that have a certain flair about them that says, “I’m bad and I’m meant to be that way, so love me or whatevs,” I’m also talking about a movie that takes itself seriously but turns out bad anyway, whether because of the writing or the directing or the acting or a combination of any of those.

When I hear about people disliking a movie and calling it the worst thing ever, my inner film geek starts to salivate and get excited. It’s kind of disgusting, and I can assure you that it’s not some instinctual desire to mate with a bad movie but rather a thirst for seeing for myself what’s so bad about it.

Like when I was hearing that the recently released Fantastic Four reboot had garnered a whopping 9% at Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, this instantly made me want to see the movie because not only do I not give enough of a shit about Rotten Tomatoes to use it as a guide as so many people do (and I hope you see the contradiction of me not using the site as a guide unless a movie scores really low), but I actually don’t care what critics say about a film. I have my own opinion; I can watch it and judge it for myself. I don’t need someone else to tell me that I should or shouldn’t like a movie or even see it. And you know, maybe critics didn’t like a movie because they were in bad moods from the bad days they were having. Yeah, all of them at the same time. Or maybe they just didn’t like a movie because it wasn’t for them.

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But I like to go a couple of steps further than simply disliking something because it’s dull and a chore to watch. For example, when I saw a movie called Barely Lethal, I went into it thinking to myself, “Hey, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba… this could be good.” Not far into my movie-going experience, however, I was wondering who Sam and Jessica owed favors to that they had to be in this movie.

Yes, it’s that bad. The story is dull, the characters are bland, the humor is forced and typically falls flat, and the acting is so mediocre that when a teen was sitting in a tub, drunk (him, not the tub), crying about how negatively encouraged he was by his father when it came to competing in sports, I immediately thought about Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club and said, “You know, if you watch the two scenes side-by-side, you’ll get a wonderful sense of what separates good acting from Barely Lethal.” No sooner than I said that did the teen admit that he was reciting the exact scene I was thinking of in The Breakfast Club. This made me realize two things:

1 – I was right about comparing the two scenes.
2 – I need to see The Breakfast Club again because it’s tragic that I didn’t recognize those specific lines being recited.

Anyway, that would be one of the things I like to do when I see a bad movie: compare it to good movies and ask myself, “Why didn’t that work here?” I like to analyze bad movies, ask why the acting was bad, why the writing was bad, and why the directing was bad. Then I ask myself what I would do to improve it.

So, essentially, when I hear that a movie is bad or stumble onto a bad movie, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I use it as a learning opportunity to discover mistakes others have made so that I, as a writer, can avoid making them.

This leads to another thing I like to do when watching a bad movie, especially one that’s attempting to be humorous: I ask why the comedy doesn’t work and suggest lines or alternate lines or deliveries that might’ve brought the humor up a level. This normally comes from a desire to make myself laugh if the movie’s not going to do it for me, but hey, whatever gets me through the movie, right?

When the protagonist of Barely Lethal, Agent 83, is captured and questioned (and I would’ve written SPOILER ALERT before typing that, but it can’t really be considered a spoiler since every spy movie, serious or not, has the protagonist being captured and questioned), a method used to get her to talk is injecting her with truth serum. Prior to the injection by Sam Jackson, she states that truth serum doesn’t work, but she’s injected with it to see if it does work. The next scene, following Agent 83’s release back to her home where she woozily tells people the truth, is supposed to be funny but just comes out all wrong. Why? Likely because the path taken was the wrong path.

What we got was a scene involving a faint Agent 83 simply going through the motions of telling people around her at home things that they supposedly didn’t want to hear, with their non-existent reactions adding to the scene falling flat.

In my opinion, it would’ve been better to cut that scene and instead play out the previous interrogation scene from the standpoint of the truth serum simply not working as was stated. That way, the line Agent 83 initially says, that truth serum, “doesn’t work,” serves as a grounding for what comes next, which could’ve been casual reactions, an ‘I told you so,’ and maybe a quip by Sam Jackson about knowing the truth serum wasn’t going to work but just being so frustrated with her that he wanted to stab her with something anyway (imagine Sam Jackson delivering a comedically aggravated, ‘I knew that shit wouldn’t work, I just wanted to stab you with something,’ line).

Rather than a scene that could’ve gone a creative route, though, the writer chose to go with a type of scene – dizzy, unintended truth-telling – that actually ended up being done better in Lethal Weapon 4. And when you’re not even doing as well as Lethal Weapon 4, that’s really saying something about how badly you need that scene to just be dropped.

Now, after reading all of this, you’re probably thinking about me, “Wow, that guy is such a know-it-all asshole, isn’t he?”

Yes. Yes I am.

If you’re laughing right now, ask yourself why that worked. If you’re not laughing, then… WTF? That was funny.

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