Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are masters of their medium. That medium is television. Famous with teenage stoners and fans of absurdism for their ever-inscrutable Cartoon Network show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the two excel at being absolutely awful at everything. They perform first-draft jingles that exhibit a lack of even the most rudimentary songwriting skill. They employ uncomfortably long transitional CGI effects between sketches (even calling them sketches seems wrong somehow). They avoid satisfying punch lines at all costs. They are nihilist comics whose primary laugh-getting devices are the kind of faces you’d find on a Greyhound bus.
Awesome Show’s endless string of bad takes is remixed and magnified, succeeding—when it doesn’t fail painfully—in large part because of the duo’s dedication to spot-on production values and its inherent grasp of the late-night TV audience’s attention span. A movie, though, is an entirely different venture than a 15-minute TV show. Tim and Eric have never been big on storytelling: They’d rather bend a tired plot device perversely until it shatters into a thousand unrecognizable pieces than see a story line to resolution. So by choosing to make their first film a loose send-up of the buddy-movie genre, they are playing on awfully unfriendly (and well-worn) turf. That explains why the least forgettable bits of Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie—elaborate opening and closing credits, in-movie commercials and vile montages that would make American Pie alumni shake their heads in disgust—are also the most tangential to the plot.
To ask whether Billion Dollar Movie is funny is to kind of misunderstand the duo’s aim. There are laugh-out-loud moments—a mall manager’s insistence that Tim and Eric watch Top Gun twice before discussing business; Aimee Mann’s inspirational montage song, “Two Horses”; every scene with dual Wills Forte and Ferrell—but the humor that moves the actual plot along here is often painful and tired. The fact it’s intentionally painful and tired won’t necessarily make it fun.
Where courageous filmmaking is still relatively easy to seek out, it only takes a leisurely stroll from channels 1 to 999 on your cable box to understand why television so desperately needs cultural critics like Wareheim and Heidecker. Theirs is a profoundly soul-sucking medium. Its triumphs—Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad—are artfully shot soap operas. Its celebrity-obsessed bottom-feeders are multiplying daily. Where Saturday Night Live playfully riffs off of the worst that VH1 and E! have to offer, Tim and Eric, using a visual language that’s familiar but unintelligible, seek nothing less than the utter destruction of meaning.
If that visual language is a bit muddied and indistinct in Billion Dollar Movie,
one subversive hallmark remains. Tim and Eric cast aspiring actors, too
dreadfully ordinary to normally get a callback, into some of the
movie’s most prominent roles. There’s a genuine shock that comes with
seeing straight-faced, imperfect people blown up on the big screen. Our
first impulse is to laugh at them. Our second impulse is to wonder why
everyone is laughing. R.
Critic’s Score: 66
SEE IT: Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.