If I taught a film studies class, I would show Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie on the first day. This is a film that is worthy of study (inasmuch as any other film is, of course). Other than an identical cast, it has very little to do with the TV show that launched the careers of Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker. Instead, they embarked on a mission to reclaim the Genre Parody Film, a concept that was tarnished by endless “Scary Movie” sequels and their hideous offspring (“Date Movie”, et al). They took the concept, pioneered by such classics as “Airplane” and “Young Frankenstein,” and added a cerebral element akin to more sophisticated industry satires like “State and Main” and “The Player.”
The question is: Who will see this movie? Obviously pre-existing fans of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job will. There may also be a few unsuspecting Will Farrell fans in the audience who will have their minds either scarred for life or completely blown. I hope that’s not all. There’s a very real possibility that you’ll think “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” is the worst thing you’ve ever watched and you’ll never trust my endorsements again. On the other hand, if you happen to see the film and like it, chances are you’re someone I would want to have a beer with.
Tim and Eric set the tone for their “Billion Dollar Movie” by having an announcer named Chef Goldblum (an ingeniously cast Jeff Goldblum) orient you with the Shlaaaang Superseat for the Ultimate Film Watching Seating Experience. Like many of Tim and Eric’s fake products, it’s a device that attaches to you in several invasive ways and likely does more harm than good. Obviously, there’s no Superseat, but the commercial is effective in bringing you into the Tim and Eric world. If you thought it was a good idea to eat mushrooms before the movie, it’s at this point that you will begin to regret it.
In the mildly Meta plot, Tim and Eric receive a billion dollars from the Schlaaang Corporation to make “Diamond Jim,” a film about a Euro man-about-town. But they foolishly squander the money on real diamond props and a phony Johnny Depp (Ronnie Rodriguez). Their investors are an evil multinational corporation headed by a chilling Robert Loggia, and they are justifiably furious at the results. They want their money back… or else. Serendipitously, Tim and Eric catch a television spot, which sort of promises the sum of their debt in exchange for running a dilapidated mall.
Before they can go out for the job, they must de-douche themselves and become “real businessmen”. Never missing an opportunity to bare their doughy white torsos, the makeover montage involves a sensuous sponge bath to remove their fake tans. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in terms of boundary pushing. If you thought they got a little gross on “Awesome Show,” your gross-out bar is about to get a lot higher.
They take their new personae as the heads of Dobis P.R. (a company that is literally inspired by what they see in the stars) and head to the Swallow Valley Mall and Pizza Court, a post-apocalyptic colony of ill-conceived shop owners and wild animals. Will Ferrell effortlessly owns his scenes as the man who hires Tim and Eric under the false promise of a billion dollars in compensation. John C. Reilly brings his weirdo aptitude to the table as Taquito, the terminally ill man-child who was raised by wolves and now lives in the mall fending them off.
Tim and Eric aren’t the first guys to push the cinematic envelope. Eccentric actor Crispin Glover spent years and a lot of his own money to make a series of Hollywood-divergent films. He then toured them around the country, showing them to fans, unsuspecting and otherwise. He also brought along a soapbox on which to rant about the myth of independent film and the lamentable lack of truly counterculture cinema. He argued that David Lynch never would have been able to make “Blue Velvet” today, at least not with the blessing of any studio. I appreciated the message, but his films felt messy and pretentious. It was hard to side with him when I didn’t enjoy the movies he was complaining about having trouble making.
Tim and Eric have proven Glover wrong. “Billion Dollar Movie” isn’t a mainstream film, but it definitely has a much better shot at infiltrating the mainstream audience with its beyond-the-pale ideas. Underneath their experimental humor lies a sharp commentary about the film industry and society’s deluded love affair with the entrepreneurial spirit. Say what you will about these guys, but they will never condescend to their audience. Instead, they take each film cliché and turn it on its ear. A dramatic drowning incident is comically extended as Jim Joe, their distraught Personal Guru (Zach Galifianakis) keeps falling into their shallow indoor pool. A partying-to-excess montage escalates with outrageous one-upmanship until Tim is literally getting his “f*****g arm cut off” and Eric is putting “a bunch of s**t up [his] holes.”
Heidecker and Wareheim’s biting satire is all wrapped in a pleasing package of great character actors like Ray Wise, in-their-element comedians like Will Forte, the usual collection of oddball non-actors and numerous quotable lines. If you take nothing else from the film, I can at least guarantee you the Poop Joke to End All Poop Jokes, inter-cut with a disgustingly inspired love scene.
Also notable is the film’s running time at 93 minutes. Unlike a lot of other billion dollar movies these days, Tim and Eric’s film is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story is well paced throughout. When they spend too long in a scene, it’s only for comedic effect. This is a very carefully orchestrated film. There were several times when I felt like I could have been standing in an art gallery, looking at an installation. If you find that theory preposterous, bare in mind that the Louvre is rife with boners.