Comedy is very subjective. Actually, comedy is extremely subjective. If one needs further proof of that, look no further than the comedic stylings of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Creators of the cult favorite sketch show, 'Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,' the pair are known for their insanely bizarre and often surreal style of humor. Though I'm not terribly familiar with their show, I have seen a few episodes in the past, and the duo's sensibilities are definitely an acquired taste. A gleefully crude exercise in low-fi experimentation mashed with an almost Mad Lib-like descent into eerie randomness, the comedians' work simultaneously satirizes and celebrates all things tacky and campy. From parodies of public access programming to bits that truly defy explanation, watching their material is like stepping into an uncomfortably skewed parallel universe seeped in non sequiturs and darkly meaningless absurdity.
Taking this unique style one step further (or perhaps backward) is 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie,' a feature length "evolution" of their singular brand of entertainment. Oscillating between goofy genius, truly irritating stupidity, and nightmarish madness, the film goes out of its way to buck convention, frequently subverting traditional humor in favor of something… else. Whether one likes (or can even stomach) that something "else," will depend on a variety of factors. What are those factors, you ask? Well, I've got no frakking clue, but they probably have a lot to do with the amount of deep rooted psychological damage one has. Hmmm, now I'm not so sure what my mixed reaction to the film says about me…
The plot (yes, there actually is one) follows best friends and filmmaking partners Tim (Tim Heidecker) and Eric (Eric Wareheim). After being given a whopping one billion dollar budget to make a feature length film, they screen the finished movie for the project's investors, the nefarious Schlaaang Corporation. Unhappy with the results, they demand their money back. Broke and out of options, Tim and Eric decide to take over a dilapidated mall in hopes of recouping the capital they owe. Unfortunately, the mall proves to be more than they bargained for, presenting them with a whole slew of new problems. With the Schlaaang Corporation hunting them down, the duo will have to find a way to make their new venture work, or suffer dire consequences.
As relatively conventional as that above summary might seem, for the most part, the execution is anything but. This is a strange, strange film. With that said, some might be surprised that the duo actually sticks to their thin narrative pretty closely. The scripting and acting are almost always intentionally cheesy and campy. Every scene seems to be some type of attempt at self-referential parody or a nearly dada-esque exercise in blatantly abnormal behavior. This can lead to a very uneven and tiresome experience, as unusual gag after gag either hit or miss while they frequently (and deliberately) overstay their welcome. For me, I'd say it was about a fifty/fifty split between what worked and what didn't, but I can easily see some viewers simply hating every second (or conversely, maybe loving).
There are many instances where one is sort of left wondering if certain scenes are actually supposed to be funny at all. Or maybe the fact that it's intentionally not funny is supposed to be what makes it funny. Or perhaps the fact that it's still not funny, even after intentionally not being funny, is supposed to then make it even funnier. Or the fact that it's still, still not -- oh, screw it, my head hurts. Hmmm, maybe that's the point then. Perhaps getting viewers and pretentious critics like myself to over-analyze the film's bewildering style is the real joke. Well played, Tim and Eric. Well played.
While the pair themselves are usually the source of the film's most insane behavior, there are several times when they end up playing the straight men to even weirder secondary characters. Zach Galifannakis, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Will Forte are all appropriately inappropriate in their supporting roles. The great Ray Wise and William Atherton also show up, and many curiously unusual faces from Tim and Eric's TV series appear as well. Unfortunately, none of the talent involved end up leaving much of an impression.
It should be noted that those who are easily (or not so easily) offended should definitely steer clear of this flick. Truly gross-out gags are common, and though I don't usually consider myself to be the squeamish type, there are a few scenes that really made me squirm. Let's just say that I've now seen things that can't be unseen. Also, though laughs seem to be Tim and Eric's main objective, their style has an inherent darkness to it. Indeed, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, watching this film is like traveling to a skewed parallel world, and at times there is a real nightmarish quality to the whole thing. A few sequences are genuinely unsettling, and there's something about the characters' frequently blank expressions that makes it seem like there is nothing resting behind their eyes. Basically, if David Lynch made a comedy, it would probably be a hell of a lot like 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie.'
Before wrapping up, I do want to be clear that my lukewarm reaction to the movie is not because I don't like or "get" the filmmakers' style or intentions. In fact, while not ultimately a comedy, it turns out that my own short film, 'Broken Records,' bears more than a few similarities to the duo's uncomfortable, post-modern style and low-fi sensibilities. I do get it. I really get it. I even admire it. Hell, if you actually clicked the above link, it probably now seems hypocritical of me to even criticize it (or any movie, for that matter) -- but, as presented, I just don't think the film always works. Like I said in the opening paragraph, this really is an acquired taste, and though I haven't seen much of the show that spawned this feature, I can't help but feel like the style works a lot better in smaller, concentrated doses.
In many ways movies like this sort of defy typical star ratings. I ended up giving it a 2.5, but to be honest I could have easily gone much lower or higher. In a sea of cookie-cutter comedies that are seemingly slapped together on an assembly line, it's refreshing to see comedians who are willing to deconstruct convention in order to form something new (even if that something new can be tiresome and extremely annoying). To its credit, the movie did successfully make me laugh, squirm and cringe -- just not as often as I would have liked. In the end, your enjoyment of the film will mostly come down to whether or not you can appreciate Tim and Eric's "unique" sensibilities. Those who are unfamiliar with their material are not advised to start here (you'd be better off checking out some of their TV work first). Those who are already fans, however, will likely find the twosome's first foray into feature filmmaking to be a flawed but mildly amusing experience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase that comes packaged in a cardboard slipcover. Some skippable trailers play upon start up before the disc transitions to an appropriately bizarre menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
Yes, that's right. A movie based on a show that's notorious for its low-fi visuals is getting a 4 star video score. What's even crazier is, I actually considered giving it a 4.5. Presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (some scenes are 2.35:1), the movie actually looks pretty damn good. Hell, a few spots are nearly impressive.
Shot on the Red One, the digital source is clean and pristine with only marginal instances of noise in a few shots. Detail is actually very strong, and the image has a nice, sharp quality with decent depth (especially the opening parody sequence of a big budget Hollywood production). The color palette varies a bit depending on the scene, but the majority of the film features a pleasing level of vibrancy that offers some nice pop (the duo's fake tans and impossibly white teeth literally radiate from the screen). Contrast levels are high with slightly blooming whites, and blacks remain consistent and deep. With all that said, the actual content of the image remains rather basic and the movie's low budget does shine through. Some intentionally degraded, VHS style commercials are also peppered throughout.
Perhaps it was simply my low expectations going in, but I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the movie's video. It's certainly not mind blowing, but considering the style and tone of the material, the transfer actually more than gets the job done.
Much like the video, the included English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is unexpectedly robust. Deep and occasionally immersive, the mix offers a well rounded audio experience. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Dialogue is nice and clean throughout with just a very faint hint of crackle in the high end. Imaging and directionality around the soundstage are smooth, and the film is actually home to a fair number of action oriented scenes. The thumping score packs a wide range of distortion free highs and deep, rumbling lows. Surround activity kicks in with appropriate ambiance, enhancing the creepy atmosphere of the run-down mall. Together, the side speakers and healthy bass response effectively bolster the shootouts with whizzing bullets and disperse explosions. The various audio elements remain well balanced.
It's not demo material, but 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' sounds quite good. With solid immersion and no glaring problems, there really is nothing to complain about here.
Magnolia has provided an entertaining but uncharacteristically conventional (by Tim and Eric standards) assortment of supplements including some deleted scenes, a commentary, and featurettes. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and no subtitles unless noted otherwise.
'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' is a bizarre descent into a comedic nightmare world full of idiotic absurdity and surreal, goofy banality. Unfortunately, as striking and original as the duo's approach can be, the movie proves to be too uneven and tiresome to truly succeed. While I can't really compare the film to the pair's previous show, it really seems like their style is just better suited for sketches and shorts. The video transfer and audio mix are both surprisingly strong, presenting a more than capable viewing and listening experience for the modest content. Supplements are solid, with a few entertaining interviews and excised bits. If you're new to Tim and Eric, then I must advise you to stay away from this disc. Fans of their material, however, will probably want to take a look. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to try and purge that Shrim screensaver from my mind.