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For low-brow laughs, you can’t resist Meeting the Spartans

Published: February 15, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


dc02150804.jpgCharming! Hilarious! I laughed out loud!

I say this so the cast and crew of Meet the Spartans can write something positive on their DVD. But despite the 3 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I actually enjoyed Meet the Spartans. Maybe the reviewers are looking at it too harshly, for what it is—if you’re a fan of Hot Shots-style parody, you’ll find that because of the comedy gold of its source material, Meet the Spartans marks the return of writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Altszer to the low-brow, high-laughs comedy of Scary Movie.

One of the strengths of Meet the Spartans is, well, its Spartan plot: King Leonidas (Sean Maguire) leads a troop of his elite guard to ward off the onslaught of the Persian army, led by its god-king Xerxes. Of course, the straight-faced over-the-top hypermasculinity paraded around in the Frank Miller original is openly skewered in Meet the Spartans.

Painted-on abs overwhelm us, and within minutes of the film’s opening, Leonidas tells an aghast messenger that “in Sparta, men greet each other with open-mouth tongue kisses, while we greet our women with high-fives.” They show us this often, and, sadly, it doesn’t get old. When the 13 men (the other 273 are blue-screened in) leave their native Sparta skipping and singing, “We Will Survive,” their dignity—as well as our doubts over their comedic chops—is lost.

The cast’s enthusiasm with the script is partially what makes the film. While scenes with Queen Margo (Carmen Electra) and the aptly-named Traitoro (Deidrich Bader) are clearly phoning in their bit parts, sword-and-sorcery veteran Kevin Sorbo’s slumming it with a straight face is laughter-worthy to begin with.

The real stars of the film, however, are Leonidas, who plays his idiot, gender-confused king to the hilt, and baby-faced Sonio (Travis van Winkle), whose glazed-over stare makes the jokes hit us over the head as they sail over his.

Yes, the jokes run to the juvenile side of the spectrum—“Move your sword out of my back.” “My sword isn’t in your back”—but if that floats your boat, it’s smooth sailing for the eighty-or-so minutes this film lasts. The writers clearly relished long sketches like the Spartans Stomping the Yard, the Spartan Insult War (Leonidas: “Your momma’s so hairy, the only language she speaks is Wookie!”), and the laugh-out-loud freneticness and gratuitous violence of “Spartan Theft Auto.”

When Leonidas periodically bellows to his troops, “Tonight, we die!” the results are a bit more realistic: the troops, ready to pounce for battle, pause suddenly, as Leonidas curses, saying “Win! I meant to say win!” Indeed, you know the film has proven its comedic worth when, two days later, I couldn’t watch the actual 300 without imagining Leonidas dead, smilling, with another man’s crotch directly in front of his face.

The film is more hit-and-miss, however, when it deviates from 300’s fertile plains and moves into the realm of pop culture: while gags like knocking celebrity idiots like Britney Spears and Tom Cruise into the Pit of Death is chuckle-worthy, Meet the Spartans often takes things five steps too far, stretching funny sketches to past the breaking point, and dredging up long-expired humor at the expense of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and (far too often) the judges of American Idol. Indeed, their casting choices for Xerxes and the Spartan traitor Ephialtes are opportunities wasted for lazy celebrity and fat jokes.

One sequence, based on Spider-Man 3, is easily the most annoying scene in the film, perhaps because it centers around Bader and Electra. (Although there is one hilarious use of the YouTube schadenfraude phenomena “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE.”) Yet these irritants are easily forgiven in the face of the sheer glee that the film has in jumping from joke to joke, as they show how stupid 300 can look with only a minimum of exaggeration.

So, be honest with yourself, like I was: if you like earlier comedies like Scary Movie or Hot Shots, or simply have a juvenile sense of humor, you’ll find that the reviewers are over-thinking this. Meet the Spartans isn’t terribly different than its stoic inspiration—if you attend with zero expectations, count on getting 300 percent laughs.