Instead of trawling the fringes of the business, a pair of comedies released one year apart near the tail end of Bush’s America chased the moment’s stupidity to the highest echelons of Hollywood. Ben Stiller’s send-up of movie stardom begins with a reel of ersatz trailers for the latest projects from the invented ensemble: the braindead post-apocalyptic CGI showcase Scorcher franchise, the overwrought gay-monk drama Satan’s Alley, and the sub-Klumps fat-suit fart-a-thon Fatties. That last one comes closest to the filmography of George Simmons, the sad-sack Adam Sandler stand-in portrayed by a grimacing Adam Sandler for Judd Apatow’s homage to Woody Allen’s homages to Ingmar Bergman. The memorabilia littering George’s mansion — posters for low-effort/high-concept turds like Merman and Re-Do, in which he’s magically turned into a half-fish and baby, respectively — surrounds him with mocking reminders of how hard he’s been phoning it in, a rich hack estranged from his roots in stand-up. The resultant strain of fake movie sees bona fide talent slumming it for the easy paychecks that come with a name brand, covering everything from Eddie Murphy’s recent Christmastime clunker Candy Cane Lane to all onscreen appearances from Dwayne Johnson in the last ten years.
Difficult People / The Other Two fake
Another twofer, this time pairing savvy piss-takes on entertainment’s in-club from the hangers-on trying to get the door guy to let them enter. Both sets of hapless leads — non-union non-stars Billy and Julie in the former, sidelined siblings Cary and Brooke in the latter — their writers, and their viewerships skew gay and media-savvy, so the laser-precise cracks come perilously close to real-life plausibility. (To wit: non-binary blob makes queer history for Disney, photorealistic Bambi remake coming down the pipe.) The key is the inside-baseball knowledge of the industry’s functioning and quirks, punch lines that double as critiques of boneheaded C-suite decisionmaking. These shows’ legacy lives on in every Variety headline that sounds like it was generated by a money-motivated Mad Libs template: Crayon manufacturer Crayola is launching a film production shingle! Start-up streaming platform with $1.75 billion in backing produces original content no longer than ten minutes, only to shutter after eight months! Every series released under the aegis of Quibi perfectly crystallizes this spirit of fakeness, from misbegotten social-issues drama #freerayshawn to Nikki Fre$h, an (actually quite funny) mockumentary chronicling the eco-activist efforts and burgeoning trap-rap career of Nicole Richie.
In between the tragedies and triumphs of hanging out with your boys, HBO’s bromantic comedy occasionally lampooned LA as company-town madhouse, with egomaniacs and eccentrics regularly crossing the path of ascendant screen idol Vincent Chase. But the ribbing was always gentle and affectionate, most clearly reflected in the irony-free excerpts from Vinny’s filmography, never in on the bit of how terrible they all appear to be. In choosing his roles, he gravitated towards thick-skulled versions of existing dorm-poster classics: the gritty indie crime saga Queens Boulevard (Dumb Mean Streets), blood-soaked Pablo Escobar biopic Medellín (Dumb Scarface), and an Aquaman (Dumb Aquaman) that somehow landed James Cameron to direct. (The less said about the EDM Jekyll and Hyde reboot from the feature-length follow-up, the better.) Every wannabe imitator of the Intro to Film jock canon strikes this particular chord, especially off-brand gangster non-epics like the Kray twins double-portrait Legend, the calamitous Capone, or the exquisitely ridiculous Gotti.