Expectations are a bitch, and so it was with a deliberately clean palate that I approached Meet the Spartans, the latest from writer-director team Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Hindsight has given me a new perspective on their previous Epic Movie (in short: it was a bad film, but not as bad as I said), and so too does this latest postmodern spoof adhere to the basic formula of ripping off the past two years’ worth of high-profile blockbusters and television programming, cobbling together as many sight gags, pop-culture references, and celebrity cameos as coherently possible in 80 minutes. As per the title, Meet the Spartans draws the bulk of its “inspiration” from last year’s 300, recycling the basic premise of King Leonidas leading his warriors to their glorious and inspirational deaths at the hands of Xerxes’s Persian army; along the way, expect appearances from Spider-Man, Paris Hilton, the judges of American Idol, a psychotic Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and the fat guy from Borat.
Surely, to criticize this film for stupidity would be pointlessness manifest, the real question being: Is its purported idiocy put to a worthwhile use, or is this just another stale retreat of MADtv? Yes and no. The mind wanders to the cringe-inducing conceitedness of the Shrek films, but this is a satirical mishmash of a more loving sort, its juvenilia and vulgarity not so much working to subvert its chosen subject matter (as if there were anything to subvert about 300) but to bring out its previously existing, barely-masked absurdity. Despite the earnestness with which the film’s numerous running gags (such as the Spartans’ uninhibited homoeroticism) and set pieces (a dance-off between opposing armies) are executed, it’s their overwhelming obviousness that renders them most uninspired, even as their wacky, ADD-reinforcing attention spans instill the film with a gonzo surrealist vibe. Ironically, it’s the cheapo production values (such as the nighttime sky straight out of a Méliès film) that achieve the most effective deconstructions, a bit of subliminal humor the filmmakers could work wonders with should they ever become aware of it.