A Movie Entry – Riff-ability, Part 2

In which I continue my list of what kind of bad movies are the best to riff on.

7) Lazy-ass (a.k.a. “The Happy Madison”) – Typically comedies fall into this category, but not always. This a movie in which it is clear that very few, if anyone, involved in the making of the movie had any [expletives] to give about it. These kinds of movies aren’t necessarily cheap, either. A lot of money can be spent on a lazy story. A lazy-ass movie relies almost completely on stereotypes instead of characters, distraction instead of plot, telling instead of showing, and narrative shortcuts to achieve emotional impact (either funny or serious).

RR: 2 out of 10 birdemics. Unfunny comedies and over-dramatic tragedies are just too much work to riff properly.

8) Muddled Mess (a.k.a. “The Supergirl”) – This is what happens when movies spend too much time in executive hell. Pretty much all movies have a team or writers and re-writers and that doesn’t always ruin a movie. I’m referring to the type of meddling that goes above and beyond the usual script-doctoring. Directors change, directives change, and the end result is something that’s barely coherent.

RR: 5 out of 10 birdemics. This depends on the emotional investment in the source material because a lot of niche movies suffer from this (like the category namer).

9) Tone-deaf – Sometimes this category actually involves the soundtrack, but that’s not what tone-deaf generally refers to. In this case, it refers to movies that change tone obviously and jarringly, like Dark Shadows or Amazing Spider-man 2. Usually this is caused by a misunderstanding of the movie’s genre, or a lack of focus, or an attempt to mix up genres that falls flat (movies falling broadly under the description of a “dark comedy” are most often the latter).

RR: 7 out of 10 birdemics. Even being invested in the source material doesn’t hurt the riff-ability rating to much because the abrupt tone changes immediately wreck the suspension of disbelief. Basically, before you can get too mad, you end up seeing something way out of place and end up thinking, “Wait, what the hell was that about?”

10) Over-stuffed (a.k.a. “The Turducken”) – These are movies that try to do too much, too quickly, with too little explanation/dialogue/clarity. While many movies geared towards franchising tend to go too light on plot (hoping to save some for sequels), some still go overboard trying to get that pesky world-building out of the way. This isn’t limited to franchise movies. Assembly comedies can end up over-stuffed with characters and subplots that are never properly explored or characters that just show up for no good reason. A good example is Van Helsing, which tried to cover Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, and some angel mythology.

RR: 8 out of 10 birdemics. Ah, so many plot holes to count and nitpick. Good times, good times.

11) Winking Self-Parody (a.k.a. “The Sharknado”) – Granted, the first Sharknado was just a ridiculous SyFy special, but the other three entries in the franchise certainly fall into this category. A winking self-parody is a movie that knows it’s bad or stupid or ridiculous or all of the above and consistently draws the audience’s attention to that fact. It’s also the sort of movie that tries to top itself in terms of absurdity.

RR: 3-7 out of 10 birdemics. I’m hedging a bit on this one because this kind of movie does a lot of the mocking for the audience, hence the low end of riff-ability. On the other hand, there is so much ridiculousness happening that the movie can’t riff on everything.

12) Wasted Potential (a.k.a. “Disney’s Eddie Murphy”) – I’ll be honest, this is the category of bad movies I personally find most difficult to enjoy riffing on. Wasted potential doesn’t mean the movie would have been great; wasted potential just means the movie had the potential to not be terrible. Maybe because I’m a writer and I aim to tell stories for a living I’m more sensitive to this particular category. The reason I gave it this name is because once upon a time, Eddie Murphy was really funny. But when he went over to Disney (aside from voice-acting), the movies he’s been in have been pretty uniformly awful.

RR: 1 out of 10 birdemics, at least for me. I find myself getting frustrated with such movies to the point it’s hard to enjoy them, even when riffing.

13) Unmitigated Disaster (a.k.a. “The Birdemic”) – Few bad movies fall strictly into only one category. Most combine a few. But the unmitigated disaster is that rare movie that manages to combine almost all other categories (aside from “wasted potential,” obviously) into something so gloriously incompetent, so unwaveringly sincere, so almost unbelievably ridiculous, and so oblivious to its own awfulness, that it becomes a standard of riff-ability to which other movies are held. There is no end to the potential to mock such a movie from bad dialogue to bad acting to everything else bad. Such movies are also infused with just the right amount of arrogance that you don’t even bad for the people who made it. The Room would also fall under this category, but rating something “birdemics” sounds better than “rooms.”

RR: 10 out of 10 birdemics. You’ll laugh so hard you can’t possibly riff on everything.

So there you have it – my list of categories for movie riff-ability. I may add another category later, but I think this pretty well covers the spectrum of bad movies. Happy riffing!


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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