Judge Chris Claro believes no comedy should open with the scrubbing of blood stains.
Comedy is hard. But is it really this hard?
I'm of the school that believes that comedy always deserves the benefit of the doubt, as the consensus has always been that it's much harder to make audiences laugh than it is to make them cry. But good comedy has to have one thing above all to make it work: respect for its audience. The audience has to be in on the joke and laughing with the filmmakers. If that respect is missing and if the film's creators feel superior to the audience, it will show on screen. And show it does, in spades, in the hateful Martin and Orloff.
Facts of the Case
Martin and Orloff is a creation of two members of the sketch comedy group Upright Citizens Brigade, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts. Along with Katie Roberts, they wrote the film's script, such as it is. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of improv. To see actors "working it out" onstage while I sit in the audience wondering whether anything funny will come out has never appealed to me. True inspiration is so rare that watching it form is akin to observing an ice sculptor: there could be something good in there, but do I really have to watch you find it?
Granted, the craft of improv has produced a slew of notable performers over the last fifty years, mostly from Second City. From Mike Nichols to John Belushi to Chris Farley, many legendary comics have evolved through the form. But improv often seems as much work for the audience as it is for the performers. Of course, within certain structures, such as the one Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind) employs, actors improvise, but do so repeatedly, allowing Guest to get the best take.
Martin and Orloff is scripted, but, it appears, barely so. The happenings are so slapdash and lacking in any semblance of reality that the film's 85 minutes feel like an eternity. It appears that the actors all improvised one take, then moved on to shoot the next scene.
Martin and Orloff opens with Martin Flam scrubbing his bathroom of the blood stains that resulted from his suicide attempt. Having just been released from "the looney bin," Martin is pressured by his boss to return to his job creating oversized costumes of food products for a marketing company. But first, he has to go see his psychiatrist, Dr. Orloff.
Orloff's bedside manner is displayed with his offhanded question to Martin "Why'd you try to kill yourself?" Before Martin can answer, Orloff runs out of the office with him, initiating an odyssey that will last the rest of the film and include nunchuck-wielding businessmen, dinner theater productions of plays about suicide, and a wacky guy who defecates in sinks and bathtubs.
Upright Citizens Brigade, whence hail the writers and stars of Martin and Orloff, starred in a show of their own on Comedy Central in 1998. It was truly unique, featuring sketches interspersed with a through line that paid off at the end of the season's episodes. The series was novel and even if it wasn't always hilarious, its inventiveness was rewarding.
Sketch comedy and feature films, though, are very different animals. Just ask Tim Meadows (The Ladies Man), Julia Sweeney (It's Pat), Al Franken (Stuart Saves His Family), Chris Kattan (A Night at the Roxbury) or the Kids in the Hall (Kids in the Hall, Brain Candy). A good comedy sketch is a surgical strike: premise, execution, conclusion. You're in, you're out. A feature film is more of an extended siege and needs to be conceived that way. You're in it for the long haul.
In addition, where absurdity and disjointed wackiness might work in a six-minute sketch, maintaining them over an hour and a half is a daring and damned-near impossible task. Even the guys from Monty Python (Monty Python's Life of Brian), the undisputed kings of non sequitur, knew that their films needed a conventional structure on which to hang their gags.
Director Lawrence Blume and writer-stars Roberts and Walsh seem to think that escalating outrageousness—including a villain with a penis long enough to suspend a knapsack—can compensate for the script's lack of logic, coherence and wit. And it's those missing elements, combined with the film's—and the filmmakers'—self-satisfied attitude that make Martin and Orloff a truly pitiful comedy.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, there are cameos. One scene early in the film features Andy Richter (Big Trouble), Tina Fey (Mean Girls), Rachel Dratch (Down With Love), and Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men). Former UCB player and current Saturday Night Live cast member Amy Poehler co-stars in the film as does David Cross (Arrested Development). And the disc does boast a lot of extras, including a snarky and unfunny commentary featuring Blume, Walsh, and Roberts. Fewer snide, sarcastic asides and more insights into the creation of the film would have made the track much more valuable and offered some perspective. Including a few short deleted scenes and an alternate ending is as close as the disc comes to mitigating the creation of Martin and Orloff.
Is it too much to ask that a comedy offer its audience something in exchange for their investment of 90 minutes? It's fun to watch performers have fun, for sure, but it would be nice for them to share some of it with the viewer.
Guilty, guilty, a thousand times guilty. The makers of Martin and Orloff are sentenced to hard labor and multiple viewings of "The Cannonball Run," the only other movie with an equal level of contempt for its audience.
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