Judge Daniel MacDonald pulled this review out of the crapper.
The evolution of what makes us laugh.
The low-hanging fruit of cinematic comedy, gross-out gags seem to have made a resurgence in recent years, and are now so commonplace in big-budget Hollywood films that when we see Oscar nominee John C. Reilly forced to lick white dog crap in Step Brothers, we hardly flinch. Recounting the history of shocking humor, In the Gutter points out that Shakespeare included comic relief by way of bodily function jokes, and a line can be drawn from Groucho Marx to Borat.
At its best, In the Gutter offers a noteworthy examination of landmark films that changed the direction of comedy, with commentary on the social and political conditions of the times to which these movies were a reaction. Films featured include John Waters' Pink Flamingos, Animal House, Porky's, There's Something About Mary, American Pie, and Jackass: The Movie, with the most recent release being Knocked Up. Through interviews with actors, filmmakers, and film critics, In The Gutter attempts to show what each of these pictures brought to the party that was different from what came before, and it more or less succeeds on this score.
Where In the Gutter fails is in being an entertaining documentary. The ridiculously fast-paced editing, accompanied by lousy animation and cheesy sound effects, becomes headache-inducing pretty quickly. Film clips are often so short as to be completely devoid of context, and therefore are usually not funny at all; there are very few laughs in this documentary about comedy. The worst offense of this Starz Inside production is the discussion of important scenes that aren't shown. Several minutes are spent on sequences from Pink Flamingos, for example, yet we don't see a frame of that film: instead, a handful of production photographs are repeatedly intercut with interview material. My guess is that budgetary constraints limited the number of clips the producers could buy—those that are included tend to be repeated three or four times in different contexts—but that's cold comfort for viewers that want to see what all the fuss is about.
In the Gutter really falls off the rails when it delves into Internet video late in its 55-minute running time. Sure, there's a connection between people posting their own gross videos and the Jackass phenomenon, so Internet comedy is worth mentioning, but this section of the piece comes across as little more than an advertisement for a number of Web sites, including the infamous "Two Girls One Cup." For a special that purports to show how shock cinema has evolved, these few minutes feel like filler.
Video quality is generally very good, and some—but not all—of the film clips featured are presented in their original aspect ratio. The interviews are well-lit and look to have been shot on high definition video, and the snippets of film were sourced from quality materials. Audio, in low-bitrate two-channel stereo, is serviceable but nothing special.
While there's plenty of interesting trivia in In the Gutter—the material on Animal House's development being the highlight—you'll have to wade through a mediocre presentation to get to it. Manically edited with a lot of "telling" instead of "showing," In the Gutter feels like a missed opportunity. Guilty, but not a pleasure.
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