It’s likely that Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie will mainly attract established fans of the duo’s surrealist anti-humor, people poised to see the film regardless of the critical reaction it receives. Yet, even among those fans and casual viewers who appreciate the non sequitur nature of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, there’s likely to be some who question how well the very hit-or-miss style of the show could be stretched effectively into a 94-minute feature-length film. It’s a fair preemptive criticism, given how often skit-based comedy has wilted in the transition to the big screen. For every, Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers that achieves cult status, there’s a MacGruber, The Ladies Man or worse, the utterly lamentable It’s Pat that serves as an exercise in self-flagellation for the viewer. Then again, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have shown it’s possible to extend 30-minute comedy (albeit not skit-based) into a laudable (and hilarious) satire.
Granted, Awesome Show has little in common with a show like South Park. For one, while South Park’s episodes are self-contained entities with rounded plots and, oftentimes, a moral lesson (thereby fulfilling the literal definition of “satire”), Tim and Eric’s short-burst comedic firings revolve around the absurd and nonsensical, and are often meant to dismantle the very notion of comedy. While the show manages to lampoon formats such as the infomercial or local news by magnifying their more ersatz elements, it does not do so with any kind of cerebral or instructional intent, and it is certainly never topical.
It’s appropriate, then, that Heidecker and Wareheim’s foray into filmmaking would be a metafilm. It’s a logical extension of their postmodern humor that they would literally make a movie about making a movie, even if just to use the film-within-a-film framing device. But if Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie proves anything, it’s that just because something is appropriate doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable to watch.
The film’s premise is simple: Tim and Eric are given a billion dollars to make a movie, squander it, and then must pay back the money on threat of death. To do so, they answer an ad that calls for someone to take the helm of a decaying shopping mall in return for a billion dollars.
But really, it’s pointless to dwell on the plot. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is less a movie than a string of cameos (Steven Spielberg’s being by far the most confusing), unappetizing absurdities and forced vulgarities. Heidecker and Wareheim succumb to the all-too-common temptation of using their one opportunity for R-rated profanity to insert needless gross-out humor that does more to repel than it does to inspire laughter. With their television show, the two are forced to come up with innovative ways to offend viewer sensibilities and defy expectations of what programming could and should constitute; with their film, they given free license to be grotesque, and they choose cop-out over creativity. While a show like South Park can be about stem cell research in one episode and about Cartman’s balls in the next, one can be sure both episodes will be equally witty. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! lacks this uniform level of quality, nor does it rely on wit for its gags. In short, it would have been nearly impossible for Heidecker and Wareheim to make a watchable film unless they severely compromised their style of comedy or modified it to fit within a narrative arc.
Many of the skits in Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! are boring, self-indulgent or repetitive, but they are necessary casualties of an anti-humor format in which it takes many failures to add up to one success. And when a skit does work, it is eminently re-watchable. Gems such as their Absolut Vodka commercials, the Steve Brule wine-tasting segment or the mock infomercial for the Internette make sifting through the failures well worth the effort. But there are no such gems in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. In fact, the only moment in the entire 94-minute film that gave me cause to chuckle was during the film’s credits, when it was revealed that the actress who played Eric’s love interest was named Twink. (That’s Twink Caplan, or Miss Geist, to all you fans of Clueless out there.) And while commenting upon and laughing at strange names in the credits is a hallowed movie-going tradition, they shouldn’t elicit more laughs then the comic film preceding them.
Director: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim
Writer: Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim; Jonathan Krisel, Doug Lussenhop & Jon Mugar (additional writing)
Starring: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Robert Loggia
Release Date: Mar. 2, 2012