The path: Third Person —> inAPPropriate Comedy
For You Might Also Like, I generally try to discover movies I’ve never heard of before, and can hardly believe exist. But when looking for a movie to pair with Third Person, Paul Haggis’ latest sorrowful exploration of how we’re all connected through torturous plotting, I decided to go with the first movie Netflix recommended: Vince Offer’s inAPPropriate Comedy, which shares a cast member with Third Person: Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody.
inAPPropriate Comedy has a reputation for being a less-classy, less-prestigious version of Movie 43. Movie 43, in turn, has a reputation for being the worst of the worst. So the notion of a movie widely considered much worse than a movie generally considered unwatchable emits a distinct train-wreck fascination. With movies like inAPPropriate Comedy, the question isn’t, “Is it good?” It’s, “How bad can it possibly be?” So I decided to diverge from the YMAL norm and tackle a relatively high-profile release—in the sense that it was released theatrically, and currently has a score of 1 on Metacritic—to answer that question.
But first, I will attempt to answer an even more intriguing question: Who is Vince Offer? Born Offer Shlomi, he’s famous as the face, voice, and rage-inducing personality of Sham-Wow, a miracle product he’s pitched on infomercials which netted him fame and fortune. But there’s so much more to Offer than that. He was arrested in 2009 for beating up a prostitute whom he claimed bit his tongue and would not let go. He also unsuccessfully sued the Farrelly brothers for ostensibly ripping off his The Underground Comedy Movie for There’s Something About Mary. And, if all that weren’t unimpressive enough, he’s also one of the first semi-famous celebrities to go up against Scientology.
Offer sued the Church Of Scientology in 2004 for slandering him and sabotaging his business. The most fascinating parts of the lawsuit reveal Scientology’s attitude toward Offer’s 1996 directorial debut, The Underground Comedy Movie, and the organization’s strong belief that the film wasn’t just unworthy of a Scientologist, it was a criminal act. The lawsuit reads in part:
In 1996 and 1997 [Offer] started to invest the profit he was making from the sales of the Chopper into a movie project for his Underground Comedy Movie, a “gross out” film. In Scientology’s perspective, this was a bad act which in Scientology language is called an “overt” because plaintiff failed to spend such money on Scientology courses and processes which were considered morally superior to plaintiff’s movie project. In addition, Scientology condemned said film as “bad art” with which it in no way wanted to be associated.
The complaint goes on to say some fellow Scientologists “falsely accused plaintiff of being a pornographer, sex pervert, and criminal who committed a crime against Scientology by spending more money on his movie project than on Scientology courses and processing.”
I am not generally a Scientology fan, but this is one instance where it didn’t go far enough. Judging from inAPPropriate Comedy, a 2013 quasi-sequel/remake of The Underground Comedy Movie, spending money on the the earlier film didn’t just represent a crime against Scientology, it represented a crime against humanity. I would consider shitting in a hobo’s mouth to be morally superior to Offer’s movie project, never mind spending “money on Scientology courses and processing.”
I want artists and entertainers to enjoy creative and professional freedom. But having suffered through inAPPropriate Comedy, 83 of the longest, most painful minutes of my life, I now embrace the idea that someone can make a movie terrible enough that it goes beyond “bad art” (and Scientologists know a thing or two about “bad art”) and becomes a criminal act. I was downright dispirited by inAPPropriate Comedy, tempted to rest repeatedly, to lay my weary head on my desk in a state of defeat.
inAPPropriate Comedy takes its awful title from its equally idiotic framing device, which finds Offer and his creepy, wolfish grin punching buttons on a computer, each of which activates a separate sketch, each more jaw-droppingly awful than the last. We begin with a 127 Hours parody that begins and ends with Offer running glibly past the James Franco character while he hovers on the brink of death.
Offer then starts punching buttons, the first of which zooms up the underwear of an inhumanly orange, plastic-surgery-damaged Lindsay Lohan, who is dolled up to look like Marilyn Monroe in the famous skirt-lifting scene from The Seven Year Itch. Offer doesn’t trust the intelligence of his audience enough to make this connection, however, so he has a man following Lohan tell her, “Man, you look just like Marilyn on that grate!” to which Lohan, in her sandpaper rasp, croaks, “Yeah, but Marilyn never had to wear a SCRAM bracelet.”
From there, we’re off and running, as Offer favors viewers with skits that are a toxic combination of unfunny and hateful. The least offensive of the bunch is “Flirty Harry,” a lampoon of the Dirty Harry films, starring Brody as the title character.
The joke here is that Flirty Harry is gay, and that everything, but everything, he says he is a crude double entendre for gay sex. What kind of double entendres? Well, here’s a sampling:
“Go ahead. Make me gay.”
“I told you before, I am not gonna wait around for a bunch of other dicks. Not when I have an opening to take those guys from the rear.”
“Yeah. I don’t think you understand. Those boys were packing heat. I mean, as soon as I came, those assholes opened up. Yeah, opened up and started spraying everywhere.”
“So I went in. Yeah, I went in deep, balls to the wall, but I unloaded into both of those assholes. And it felt good.”
Brody could be forgiven for phoning in his performance as Flirty Harry, yet he completely commits to the role. There’s a palpable, tragic joy to his performance; you can almost see the wheels in his head turning as he thinks up ways to make his lines filthier.
The performance, while brief, permanently changed the way I see Brody. When I first saw him in Steven Soderbergh’s King Of The Hill, I thought, “Who is that guy, and why isn’t he a huge star?” Watching Brody in inAPPropriate Comedy, I thought, “What the hell is wrong with this guy, that he would want to be involved in a project like this? What strange, damaged part of his brain was attracted to the role of Flirty Harry?” It’s not as if Brody’s role in the film is inconspicuous: His name is above the title, and his face is on the poster. No, Brody chose to be in inAPPropriate Comedy, and that says an awful lot about him as an artist and as a person. I imagine Brody frantically trying to reassure his agent, “Now, I know my stock has fallen a little since the Oscar, but I’ve got really good working relationships with both Wes Anderson and the Sham-Wow guy who beat up the hooker.”
Elsewhere, Offer has Rob Schneider and Michelle Rodriguez as the hosts of The Porno Review, which is shot exactly like Siskel & Ebert, with a pair of hosts in a movie theater directly addressing the camera. Yet the Porno Review is explicitly posited as a “podcast,” apparently because Offer heard those were a thing nowadays—like apps and Lindsay Lohan—never mind that one of the defining qualities of podcasts is that they are an audio medium. But parodying old porn movies is just too inspired and original an idea to let something as minor as logic and common sense kill it, and besides, The Porno Review lets Offer recycle gags from “Sushi Mama,” a sketch from The Undercover Comedy Movie so nice, he did it twice. The original had references to the Macarena and the Lambada; inAPPropriate Comedy replaces those with references like, “I call your pussy Rihanna, because my dick’s going to beat it like it’s Chris Brown.”
“Flirty Harry” is stupid, but it’s fundamentally harmless. The same cannot be said of “Blackass,” which, as its title suggests, is like Jackass, only racist. So instead of Johnny Knoxville and his gleefully homoerotic gang of testicle-abuse enthusiasts, we’re treated to a dispiriting assortment of stereotypes of black men as welfare-collecting, violent, hyper-sexual, irresponsible thugs.
Jackass derives much of its transgressive power from the charged interplay of the fake and real, the written and the dangerously spontaneous. The “Blackass” segments replace the exhilarating tension of pranksters taking their warped ideas to the street with segments where the faux-pranksters and the pranked are both clearly actors who are in on the joke. And that joke is that uptight white people and Asians would be crazy-offended if, to cite a representative gag, they were in a waiting room getting ready to have abortions, and a black man out of the worst nightmares of Fox News viewers profanely offered to perform the service himself with a rusty wire hanger.
inAPPropriate Comedy seems to be joylessly working its way through an outsized checklist of racist stereotypes. Jews are stingy Christ-killers. Asians are terrible drivers who are good at math and have small penises. Black people are violent and poor, hyper-sexual, and wildly irresponsible. Gay men are obsessed with sex and screamingly effeminate. Recycling those tropes isn’t edgy and transgressive, it’s lazy. And boring. Worst of all, it’s not funny. No, unfunny doesn’t cut it. inAPPropriate Comedy isn’t just unfunny. It’s fucking painful. Pulling off this kind of satire is incredibly difficult, a real high-wire act. (That’s why there are tons of talented comedy minds out there, but only one Sacha Baron Cohen, and only one Johnny Knoxville.) It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, and inAPPropriate lands on the “nothing” side of that divide.
inAPPropriate similarly suffers from a trait endemic to sketch-comedy movies: a lack of narrative drive. Since we’re not waiting to see how the plot will turn out, or whether the gun in the first act will go off in the third, any momentum a sketch-comedy movie has comes from the rolling gales of laughter it provokes. But inAPPropriate Comedy is a barren, laughless wasteland, and the ugliness of its racial stereotypes and crude sexual humor makes it seem about twice as long as its 83-minute running time (which is really more like 75 minutes padded out with outtakes, bloopers, and an unusually long end-credits sequence). Funny excuses just about anything. Unfunny excuses nothing.
Just as inAppropriate Comedy has its own horribly racist version of Jackass in “Blackass,” it has its own bootleg Sacha Baron Cohen in Ari Shaffir, a Jewish comedian who did a series of online videos called “The Amazing Racist,” in which he delivered a steady stream of racist patter to minorities (like telling a Hispanic man, “You save up money, dinero, you can buy a low-rider and bring property values down for everybody”) until they snapped and turned on him. He reprises that role here. The idea may be to expose the idiocy of racism and the ridiculousness of stereotypes, but the segments just end up feeling fatally mean-spirited, so toxic and misguided that even the few clever moments (as when the Amazing Racist refers to an enraged black man as “2Pac Insecure”) fall hopelessly flat. Shaffir’s shtick doesn’t inspire laughs, only sympathy for his poor victims.
Shaffir does an excellent job of being despicable; the only cathartic moment in the entire movie is when a black man starts beating up Shaffir, and even that seems staged. When the cop called upon to protect Shaffir and his assistant responds to the filmmakers’ claim that it’s all just a misunderstood joke with an agitated, “Dude, it’s not fucking funny,” he could be speaking for all of us.
By the time a sketch titled “Sperm Lake” appears, it doesn’t seem like Offer is even trying to entertain anymore. He just appears to be working through his own demons, in ways that barely make sense. The sketch is even more puzzling and unconscionable given that it’s a remake of a sketch from The Underground Comedy Movie that Offer felt he needed to re-create with a bigger budget and more impressive special effects.
I do not make this claim lightly, but inAPPropriate Comedy is one of the worst comedies I can recall. I can’t imagine anyone liking it, whether they’re a fan of Third Person or not.
Yet there is a fascinating commonality between these two films beyond the presence of Adrien Brody. Not unlike the wildly dissimilar slices of humanity found in the overreaching cinema of Paul Haggis, these two movies have a secret connection, in that they’re both the works of men who have risked everything to speak out against the Church Of Scientology. (Haggis spoke out against his former church in a New Yorker piece written by Lawrence Wright, who later expanded it into the book Going Clear.) Maybe Haggis is right. He understands better than anyone how, no matter how dissimilar we might seem, whether we’re Oscar winners or disgraced infomercial pitchmen, we’re all connected, be it through our disillusionment with Scientology, a working relationship with Adrien Brody, or a desire to comment on racism in horribly overwrought movies.