I was under the impression that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim were supposed to be comedy masterminds, whose Adult Swim program “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job” had somehow taught America to laugh again. I haven’t seen much of it. I know, I know, it’s pathetic. (I also have no idea what “Linsanity” is, although I get the distinct impression that the director of Fast Five isn’t involved.) Having my masculine fingers far afield of the pop culture pulse may have left me unprepared for the onslaught of nonsense at play in their first feature film, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, so maybe I’m missing the joke. Hell, maybe I’m the punch line, since I couldn’t find any good ones in this borderline unwatchable motion picture.
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is the second Adult Swim theatrical feature film to date, and like Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, I get the impression that they’re adapting the wrong material. I can imagine the Dadaist humor in either of these films working for me in 10-15 chunks, particularly if I’m spectacularly high, but the focus seems less on narrative cohesion than a conscious attempt to ignore it. And no amount of celebrity cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis and even the great Ray Wise are able to hide this kind of fundamental flaw.
For the record, sketch comedy material has worked on the big screen before, but it’s a tricky mix. And Now for Something Completely Different worked (as well as it did) because Monty Python eschewed narrative altogether and just threw out comedy vignettes like they were dime-store confetti. The Life of Brian worked because they made the effort to wrap their comedy schtick around a decent storyline that also supported their absurdist whims. The Kids in the Hall Brain Candy worked less because the story was too thin, failing to propel the movie forward or actually bolster the more random sketch comedy material on its workmanlike shoulders.
But Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t work at all, because the story – Tim and Eric lose a billion dollars in a movie deal, and take over a shopping mall to pay off their violent investors – somehow manages to distract from the comedy and overpower it at the same time. Only the barest attempt is made to keep the plot going throughout the film, but it’s just enough to make Billion Dollar Movie nearly impossible to care about. Heidecker and Wareheim, who star in, co-wrote and directed the film, ignore storytelling conventions throughout most of their movie, which would be fine if so much of the humor wasn’t dependent on diverting from story conventions.
For instance: the mall is so derelict that a man-eating wolf has taken up residence, leading to a climactic showdown between the beast and a thoroughly diseased John C. Reilly. But it falls flat because somehow Tim and Eric forgot to make the wolf an actual running gag. It’s like telling someone, “I heard this joke about a chicken. It turns out it got to the other side.” You’re just not doing it properly, although I can see how someone might think that version is funny in the abstract. I’ll even admit the wolf gag, like many throughout Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, sounds funny in principle, but in order to get the joke, that the plot point is handled in a subersive way, the audience needs to have the actual story established first, not just thrown off the cuff. This type of approach probably works better in short spurts, and an 11-minute TV series certainly qualifies, because we spend most of our day dealing with both conventional reality and conventional narratives, and are looking for a brief – brief – respite.
Unfortunately, in the isolation of a theater, a movie becomes our reality, and as such the human brain attempts to acclimate to whatever that movie presents to us. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie depends on unexpected, even Dadaist comedic asides for pretty much all of its gags, but the sheer non sequitor nature of its tone makes “the unexpected” outright tiresome. There’s no reason not to expect the unexpected here, so just about every gag falls flat. It could have worked as psychotronic insanity, but damn it, there’s just enough lip service paid to the familiar plot line that they can’t play it off as utter madness either.
I’m looking at Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as an academic exercise in how not to make me laugh because it did not connect with me on any emotional level. I couldn’t care about the plot or characters, and the poorly conceived nature of the comedy set-ups prevented me from finding it funny enough to disregard those potentially pedestrian criticisms. I suspect that fans of their show may be more lenient. Two people in the theater sure seemed to love it, that’s for sure. But that mentality does nobody, especially Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, any favors. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie was an opportunity to introduce the comedy of these two highly regarded comedians to audiences without cable, and in that regard, it simply fails.