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Meet the Spartans (2008)

  • Review: ** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Ken Davitian, Kevin Sorbo, Diedrich Bader, Method Man, Jareb Dauplaise, Travis Van Winkle, Phil Morris, Jim Piddock, Nicole Parker, Ike Barinholtz, Crista Flanagan, Hunter Clary, Emily Wilson, Thomas McKenna
  • Director: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Screenplay: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Length: 84 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and some comic violence.

Stabbing pop culture repeatedly has been the bread and butter of spoof filmmakers in recent years. Today, the genre has seen few changes, but it's not the style that has been updated, it's the frequency.

While movies like Airplane!, Hot Shots and Naked Gun were hugely popular in their days, their type was not seen as frequently on the big screen. With the success of Scary Movie and Austin Powers, the genre has seen a resurgence that has resulted in an influx of new spoofs this decade.

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer began their comedy writing careers with the abysmal spy spoof Spy Hard back in 1996. That film dimmed most prospects the pair might have had for the future, but in 2000, their second film, Scary Movie, became an instant sensation, making fun of the glut of horror films that had been released in the wake of the success of Scream. That success leant itself to three sequels (that they didn't contribute to) and a successful, albeit lackluster, career in the genre.

Their movies are strictly in the vein of David Zucker's Airplane! and Naked Gun movies, taking zany one-liners and strong comedians and putting them to work on a ludicrous plot that skewers every bit of popular motion pictures it can while trying to stay on point. That has worked for the Scary Movies, but after the disappointment of Epic Movie in 2007, the prospects of another hit had again diminished.

Enter Meet the Spartans, a parody of the popular film 300, taking the entire plot and adding into pop culture references worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit. The focus on plot and the ability of Friedberg and Seltzer to re-use gags through the film's entirety instead of using them for one or two laughs and then disposing of them make Spartans one of their most successful films.

The most surprising thing for me watching Meet the Spartans was realizing that Sean Maguire, who plays Leonidas in the film, was familiar to me from a short-lived hilarious TV show called "The Class". The difference in performances is literally night and day. While many in the sketch comedy milieu could accomplish such a transformation, Maguire brings a great amount of emotional and comic detail out of his solid impersonation of Gerard Butler in 300.

The rest of the cast is your typical hodge-podge of good, bad and horrible comedy actors who've made names for themselves in service to other projects. Ken Davitian would never have been considered for his role as Xerxes were it not for the hit Borat. And here, he's as laughably unfunny as Kevin Sorbo is self-deprecating in the film. Sorbo plays Leonidas' Captain of the army and does a fair job insulting himself and the material simultaneously.

This isn't a great film. Far from it. I'd even go so far as to say some of the worst Oscar winners in the past are better than this picture. But what it does and does well is make you laugh. Sure, it's some of the most stupid material you've ever heard and it's like sitting down with Frat buddies and laughing at interminable fart jokes, but when you are exposed to so many films that take themselves seriously when they shouldn't or when they don't deserve to, it's great to sit down and watch a movie that doesn't even remotely take itself seriously.

And while there are some greatly humorous moments in the film, there are plenty of one-liners that fall substantially flat. One scene late in the film where Xerxes' famed assassins are going head to head with the Spartans, features an incessant spoof of the then-recent onslaught of stomp dance competition films that drags on for far too long. It's that type of skit that runs a bit long at times and, when used frequently as it was in Epic Movie, it can become tiring, leaving the audience waiting for the filmmakers to make them laugh again. These moments are thankfully few in Meet the Spartans.