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Surely you can't be serious

Spoof films are routinely snubbed by Oscar and are even looked down upon by other comedies. But the genre's producers often just laugh all the way to the bank.

January 27, 2008|Aaron Lee | Special to The Times

Budgeted around $3 million, "Airplane!" went on to gross more than $80 million, which set in stone the greatest factor inthe spoof movie's resiliency: cost-effectiveness. Panitch says, "All three of our spoof movies were made for very aggressive pricing -- and they were all profitable, domestic and internationally."

Joel Gallen, director of 2001's "Not Another Teen Movie," notes that spoof movies do not require an A-list cast. Sony Chairwoman Amy Pascal, he says, "green-lit the concept without big-name talent, so you saved a lot of money there. 'Teen Movie' cost about $15 million to make and grossed $13 million in its opening weekend alone."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 29, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie spoofs: An article in Sunday's Calendar section about movie spoofs included a caption under a photograph from "Meet the Spartans" that said the film "300" was from 2006. It was a 2007 release.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 03, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie spoofs: An article last Sunday about movie spoofs included a caption under a photograph from "Meet the Spartans" that said "300" was from 2006. The film "300" was a 2007 release.

Ready for takeoff

"Airplane!" proved the spoof movie could be a blockbuster, and it added rapid-fire pacing to the formula, along with plenty of corny one-liners ("Surely you can't be serious." "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."). Roger Ebert, writing in 1980, summed up the film's appeal by stating, "Movie comedies today are so hung up on being contemporary, radical, outspoken and cynically satirical that they sometimes forget to be funny." To think there was a time when that list of adjectives was the tired old norm for movie comedy. Nevertheless, for better and worse, the spoof floodgates had been opened.

The deluge included horror parodies ("Saturday the 14th," "Silence of the Hams"), mob parodies ("Johnny Dangerously," "Jane Austen's Mafia!"), cop parodies (the "Naked Gun" series, "Loaded Weapon 1"), erotic thriller parodies ("Hexed," "Fatal Instinct"), war parodies ("A Man Called Sarge," "Hot Shots!," "Hot Shots! Part Deux"), sci-fi parodies ("Spaceballs," "The Creature Wasn't Nice"), " 'hood movie" parodies ("High School High," "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood"), indie film parodies ("Plump Fiction," "My Big Fat Independent Movie") -- and on and on and on.

When the Wayans Brothers' "Scary Movie" crossed the all-important $100-million mark in 2000, the bar was raised. Spoof movies now had to be more outrageous and, most importantly, more current.

"If you've got a joke that's a year old, it might as well be 10 years old," explains Panitch. "Teenagers today are moving so fast."

Abrahams agrees. "References today can't be as old as they were then. But you've still got to write what makes you laugh."

Regardless of "Meet the Spartans' " box-office take, the spoof movie's prognosis is healthy. Scripts circulate around Hollywood: A parody of "Stomp the Yard"-style dance movies here, a James Bond/"Bourne Supremacy" mash-up there. David Zucker himself is in post-production on "Superhero!," with the inevitable presence of "Airplane!" alum Leslie Nielsen.

"As long as there are hit movies that are revered culturally," says Panitch, "there are targets to be hit."

He adds with a sigh, "You have to be very clever to look like a dumb spoof."

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