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Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 08:09 am

The dearth of good comedy

With some exceptions, Hollywood humor has missed the mark

Untitled Document Has anyone else noticed the dramatic slide in the quality of movie comedy in recent years? The outlook is a bit bleak but not hopeless. The major success of two excellent comedies last year, Borat and The Break-Up, could lead to some better rip-offs. Until then we are left with a group of recent DVD releases that vary a bit in quality. Scoop is the latest release from America’s greatest living comedy director, but it is far from Woody Allen’s best work. At least it is a marked improvement over his previous London film, Match Point, which didn’t even feel like an Allen film. Scarlett Johansson is a journalism student who strikes up a relationship with a charming aristocrat (Hugh Jackman), who, she believes, is the Tarot Card Killer. Most of the mild laughs are provided by Allen himself as a dopey magician who aids Johansson. Allen may not have hit a home run with his latest effort, but The Benchwarmers doesn’t even get up to bat. How many laughs can one squeeze out three idiotic adults playing baseball against several kids’ teams? Apparently the answer is zero. Anyone who can survive the heartwarming climax without reaching for an antacid deserves a medal. Kevin Smith created his own comic universe with the indie hit Clerks (1994) and then trampled it with subsequent installments. Failure often forces artists to return to their roots. Whatever Smith had before he really lost with Clerks II, a real insult to the original. Smith built this travesty around a handful of really bad jokes and stretched them out interminably. The Farce of the Penguins is Bob Saget’s very adult spoof of the blockbuster documentary March of the Penguins. Here we have many well-known, and probably embarrassed, actors lending their voices to stock footage of penguins. Most of the talk relates to sex, and if you think hearing penguins use four-letter words over and over is funny, then this is for you. Beerfest is equally repetitive, and it is equally unfunny. Broken Lizard is the comedy troupe responsible for Super Troopers (2001), a film that found a few laughs buried under the dross. Beerfest couldn’t find any, unless you think beer is funny. Two brothers put together a team and train to compete in a German drinking contest. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes for relief you have to look in unexpected places. Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic features the politically incorrect comedienne in one of her great standup shows, and there are far more laughs than in the aforementioned five films combined.

New on DVD this Tuesday    (Feb. 20): Babel, Flushed Away, The Prestige, Man of the Year, and For Your Consideration.
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