Brent Bozell: When the Plot Is Runny

July 29, 2011 - 4:42 AM

They say the movie theaters make more money on popcorn, candy and soft drinks than they do on the movie tickets. If that's true, theater owners really ought to reconsider the previews they're airing. They can make you sick to your stomach.

I don't know why Hollywood  moviemakers are so fascinated with flatulence and excrement. It's become almost an obsession, a formality of sorts in the "humor" oeuvre.

Watching a recent preview of the forthcoming movie "The Change-Up" is bad enough when you consider the plot — two men mysteriously switch bodies, and just how many times will they beat this horse to death? One is an uptight lawyer and family man, and the other a foul-mouthed slacker and relentless womanizer. Aha! The womanizer will be presented with the opportunity to have sex with another man's wife! Genius!

There's nothing original here, so enter Flatulence and Excrement. Just as the womanizer prepares to take the family man's place in the marital bed — remember, any child in a movie theater can watch these previews — the wife gets a bad case of diarrhea, complete with a shot of her sitting on the john, defecating. Oh, but there's more. She then gets into the bed and backs up to her faux husband. Naturally, the disgusted womanizer exclaims, "Don't back that thing up into me!" Har, har!

This qualifies as a preview, a snapshot of the best this movie has to offer. Even if you find it funny, why must it be in the previews, where it can — and certainly will — gross out the majority of unsuspecting viewers?

That's not the only scat prank in the plot. The film opens with the uptight lawyer (played by Jason Bateman) getting up with his twin babies to change them — when he gets a hot blast of diarrhea in his mouth. When the late Steve Allen talked about Hollywood sinking into the sewer for laughs, he meant so figuratively. Who knew Hollywood would eventually go there literally?

Bateman insists in interviews that he was so completely excited to star in this series of bathroom grossouts: "I was like, wait a second, this is how they're gonna start? All right, I'm ready, my knees are bent, I'm prepared for anything they're gonna throw at me, and they didn't disappoint. It just kept coming."

What else kept coming? Gutter talk in front of small children was also mandatory. The Huffington Post reports that once Bateman's body is taken over by the foul-mouthed slacker character, the film contains "a number of scenes in which he lets out a ferocious slew of curses in front of his 6-year-old daughter. ... Bateman, a father himself, made sure to finesse those uncomfortable moments."

Why would the cursing (and then the finessing) be necessary? Once again, this is where Hollywood finds the easy laughs — the shock value of scandalizing a kindergartener with "ferocious" cursing — and if a 6-year-old actress has to hear these fusillades of profanity over and over again during filming, that's just the price of doing business.

Bateman explains the "finessing" business thusly: "You spend 20 minutes apologizing to her and her mother and another 20 afterward, and then while you're shooting, you just kind of let it fly. She was a great little actress, she got it, she understood the jokes." The child is patted on the head as a "great little actress" for tolerating all that garbage talk.

Six years old.

This new trend of R-rated summer comedies really took off with "The Hangover," last summer's box-office surprise, which earned a whopping $467.5 million worldwide to become the top-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. (No question, there are points in that movie that are laugh-out-loud hilarious.)

The streak continued this spring with the hit movie "Bridesmaids," which proved a girl comedy could be just as disgusting as a male-centered one. It also contained a stomach-churning scene with the bridesmaids in fancy dresses vomiting and getting diarrhea and going to the bathroom in "comedic" places — in one scene, the sink, and in another, the middle of heavy traffic.

Pamela McClintock at The Hollywood Reporter sounds positively aglow about the new success of R-rated yuckfests. "Raunch and debauchery are sizzling at the worldwide box office." McClintock insisted. "The collective strength of these R-rated comedies is unprecedented and marks a major shift for Hollywood. A decade ago, studios thought the genre was washed up."

You mean, like ... diarrhea? Har, har!