The Starving Games
Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Maiara Walsh, Cody Allen Christian, Brant Daugherty, Lauren Bowles, Diedrich Bader, Theo Crane, Dean West, Michael Harston
PG-13 for crude and sexual content, comic violence, language and partial nudity
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Some writers make great transitions to the director’s chair. Others make you wish that they stuck to the writing and let others infuse their works with the semblance of life. The Starving Games is the latest in a long string of entirely disappointing film spoofs that might have succeeded had they been directed with a keen since of comic timing.
Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are the Hollywood equivalents of the lamely funny class clown you went to High School with. Their juvenile humor infuses every scene they write, but their antics are one-note and over time lose their impact. So it is for the duo who wrote the late ’90s/early ’00s spoof films Spy Hard and Scary Movie, two movies that were fun and entertaining even if they weren’t the most accomplished films. By comparison, the likes of Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans, make those earlier films seem like Mel Brooks-style comic masterpieces.
The Starving Games chooses a very specific property to marginalize, written before the glut of disappointing and failing tween adaptations of 2013 and forward. Poking fun largely at The Hunger Games, from which it drags the thinnest of plots, they inject their movie with jabs at The Avengers and The Expendables in brief, pointless asides meant to skewer the Hollywood output of recent years, but falling wearily short of the purpose of spoof: poke fun of something intensely silly about the popular films of Hollywood while making a comment on the state of modern filmmaking.
Brooks understood that when his films Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles established new rules for spoof films in the 1970s. The 1970s and 1980s were a strong period, building on the talents of legends like Blake Edwards, and sharing a dynamic stage with the likes of Zucker/Abrahams. That period faded as the 1980s dwindled and by the mid-1990s, there was a void. That void was filled by the likes of Seltzer and Friedberg along with the Wayans Brothers. While none of them would capture the Brooks/Edwards dynamic, they created entertaining pictures for a few years before gaining the power to direct their own films.
Friedberg and Seltzer left the Scary Movie franchise and staked out their own brand on the genre, directing their own movies starting with the poorly received Date Movie in 2006. Their next three films, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie were humorous, if blandly constructed movies, but they weren’t the abysmal wastes of time that The Starving Games is.
The hackneyed plot had an opportunity to dig into the Hollywood reliance on tween literature in a way that more intelligent filmmakers could have. So intent on jumping on the popular bandwagon of The Hunger Games and tossing in pointless and frequently unfunny attacks on the Hollywood blockbuster machine, they ignored a stronger and more interesting narrative that could have emerged.
It would be nice to return to the Brooks/Edwards era of spoof filmmaking, but that won’t happen in the hands of Friedberg and Seltzer. I am a fan of this type of film and although I’ve never remotely considered any of the work to be good filmmaking, I’ve appreciated the balls-out humor and irreverence that have comprised most of their films. Yet, that amusement may have finally slipped away. It isn’t my frequently adjusting tastes in movies, it’s that there are only six or seven jokes in the Friedberg/Seltzer screenwriting stable and they’ve been played out so often that you just wish the class clowns would finally graduate after their third Senior year of High School and leave the task to a new generation that might be a little bit funnier and a whole lot less crass.
March 19, 2014