If ever a movie deserved a good skewering, Zack Snyder’s 300 (2007) is that movie. Turning the task over to Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer—the auteur team who gave us Date Movie (2006) and Epic Movie (2007)—guaranteed that wouldn’t actually happen. In their deeply ingrained tradition of something less than mediocrity, Messrs. Friedberg and Seltzer make their annual locust-like descent on theaters leaving a trail of ruthlessly murdered brain cells in their wake. The approach is as simple as it is simple-minded: Throw as many pop-culture references (even if the pop in the culture long ago went flat) at the viewer as possible and make him or her laugh on sheer recognition value. It has nothing to do with satire or parody or even middling cleverness—just recognition.
In the case of Meet the Spartans, the filmmakers have such a low opinion of their audience that they explain each and every pop-culture reference. It’s not enough, for example, to have a Sylvester Stallone impersonator show up as Rocky Balboa, they cut to an insert of the name “Rocky” stitched into his boxing shorts to make sure we understand. When Carmen Electra transforms into evil Spider-Man from Spider-Man 3, the narrator has to tell us, “just like Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3.” An “Ugly Betty” clone is dutifully identified as such for the pop-culture challenged—as are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, a tap-dancing penguin from Happy Feet, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan etc. This does have two advantages: No one has to feel left out, and it saves time, energy and money since the look-alikes don’t have to bear even a passing resemblance to the celebrities being “parodied.”
The filmmakers have one basic joke—that there’s something a little bit gay about all these buff Spartans—and they work it into the ground, trotting out every dumb homosexual panic joke in recorded history. (As a result we get not one, but two renditions of “I Will Survive” in the course of the film.) At the same time, the movie itself is painfully obviously geared toward the easily panicked who break into a collective “Ewww!” at the sight of two men kissing. Go figure. (To let us know they’re only kidding, there’s lots of leering at Carmen Electra’s chest.)
Since that’s not quite enough to support even this extended sketch comedy, the movie tosses in lots of “gags” involving bodily fluids and other excretions. (This is definitely the movie for anyone who ever wanted to see a tap-dancing penguin unleash its bowels in Sean Maguire’s face. If you’re out there, you know who you are.) And since even that is not sufficient to push Meet the Spartans to feature length, we’re treated to product placement scaled to the height of something like inserted commercials for Subway, Gatorade, Krispy Kreme and Dentyne. Then there’s the use of the “Pit of Death” from 300—that mystifying open hole in the middle of the city that presumably exists solely for the disposal of unwelcome visitors. This provides Meet the Spartans endless opportunity to dispose of celebrity barely-look-alikes from George W. Bush to Britney Spears.
The plot adheres pretty closely to that of 300—if 300 had been made for a buck and a quarter. There are maybe a dozen Spartans (I guess it’s a joke), and all the action takes place on what look like abandoned sets from the cheesier episodes of the original Star Trek series. The movie itself—shorn of endless credits and outtakes—runs about 69 minutes. There’s no crime in that, I suppose. The Marx Brothers classic Horse Feathers (1932) clocks in at 68 minutes. The problem is that it takes less than one minute for Meet the Spartans to prove that it ain’t no Horse Feathers. It’s not even a movie. It’s just a thing. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and some comic violence.