It’s a dangerous risk that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim take in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (2012), a comedy that wants to punish you into laughing with gratuitous gross-out humor and jokes played out for so long that they must think they have the same qualities of fine wine. Heidecker and Wareheim are cult comedians and the creative team behind the movie that can be awfully funny at times, but is mainly odious, perplexing, and worst of all, boring.
Tim and Eric were given a billion dollars to make a movie. The money resulted in a picture called Diamond Jim which stars a Johnny Depp impersonator and lasts all of two or three minutes. Where did the money go? Well, a lot of it went to a $500,000-a-week life coach named Jim Joe Kelly (Zach Galifinakis), much more went into the hundreds of real diamonds that festoon Diamond Jim’s suit, and the rest went to makeovers for Tim and Eric so they could look as terrible as possible, I think. Unfortunately, the two signed a contract that made them responsible for the billion, meaning they have to get it back to the group that loaned it to them, led by Tommy Schlaaang (Robert Loggia). They drop the life coach, undo the makeovers and roll-up their sleeves to turn around a struggling mall (struggling so much, in fact, that the mostly abandoned facility is plagued by wolves), the completion of which, they are promised will net them the ten figures.
During their trials we will see body parts removed, a collection of bread puns, defecation, ejaculation, weird sex and the beating and torture of octogenarians. Most of this is exhaustingly unfunny; all of it is surreal. The behavior in the movie is so bizarre it’s impossible to find the humor in it because there’s nothing normal to relate it to.
I think the idea is that it’s willfully bad, made to seem poorly put together. In a pre-credits sequence, a parody of movie theater commercials, Jeff Goldblum (introduced as “Chef Goldblum”) hocks a special chair that is designed to completely immerse the viewer in the experience by means of intravenous fluids and intrusive hoses inserted into the nostrils. The spoof is terribly constructed with shots that don’t match, shots that are repeated and voice overs that awkwardly run together.
The joke, as far as I can surmise, is that you are uncomfortable watching the movie when you thought you’d be laughing. This is not a terribly great joke, one that can only be funny to the joke-makers, and I didn’t see the movie with them so there wasn’t much laughter. Tim and Eric purposefully make a bad movie, hoping that you will think their lame attempt is hilarious. Marginally funny material is beaten into the ground, the idea being that if they didn’t get you during the third repeated gag, they’ll get you on the fourteenth.
There are some bit parts given to cameos (in addition to Galifinakis and Loggia, there’s Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Will Forte), who are good sports (and are much funnier than our heroes), but this is definitely the Tim and Eric show, much to the movie’s detriment. The trouble is, this kind of comedy can work. Tim and Eric have in many ways perfected it with their sketches on television and the Internet, and some parts early in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie are funny, but then instances that could be ripe for comedy later don’t materialize because the earth they are planted in has been salted.
And that’s the crux of the problem; it’s a sketch show stretched over a movie. Because they are expected to be in every scene, Tim and Eric are frustratingly inconsistent, going from being outrageous to the straight men depending on the sketch they find themselves in. We need to trust our protagonists, even in a comedy, perhaps even more so. It’s hard to take the pair of them as the savvy saviors of the mall when five minutes ago they were peeing on each other and paying a tattoo artist to cut off their arms (or worse).
The pair work in the dangerous trade of outrageous humor, and they have a skill for designing disgusting scenarios, but they don’t seem to understand that a disgusting scene isn’t a joke in and of itself. Without the requisite groundwork of character and motivation, we are left watching a man we don’t care about getting excreted on for reasons we don’t understand. The movie can’t be offensive because it doesn’t have a connection to any real sensibility it can offend. There’s a moment when Tim and Eric look directly into the camera to explain a joke they’ve just made (and isn’t that always funny?). Tim reveals that he and Eric fought the studio to allow them to include a laugh track, unheard of for a feature film. The studio should have listened. Even canned laughter would be preferable to embarrassed silence.