TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: When “Getting It” Becomes Comedic Nihilism

“Either you get it or you don’t.” That’s a standard argument a fan uses when someone says they don’t like the cult-favorite music/show/film/book/etc. that the defensive party likes – and it’s an argument that diehard Tim & Eric fans are throwing out to defend the duo’s maiden cinematic effort, Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.  To be fair to those fans, that might be true for viewers expecting a standard, easily digested Hollywood comedy.  However, viewers like that aren’t likely to be searching out a low-budget, under-the-radar effort like this.  It’s likely fans of Tim & Eric as well as the more adventurous viewers will be seeking this film out – and even those who “get it” may find their work to be unfocused and disappointing.

The first problem with Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is that it takes the stars/creators out of their familiar element, television.  For those not familiar with their work, writers/stars/directors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are best known for the shows Tom Goes To The Mayor and Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job.  Both shows became major cult items because of their outrageously bizarre approach to the satire of television.

In these shows, they created convincing looking replicas of low-rent programming –  public access, cheap commercials, public service announcements, local morning news shows – and spiked them with lysergic, often confrontational weirdness.  The shows were short (12 minutes on average) and moved at a jagged, channel-flipper’s pace as they mixed in cameos from comedians and real-life eccentrics as well as deliberate technical glitches.  It’s arguable that as many people hated it as those who liked it but their ability to summon up the id of cut-rate television was hard to forget.

Thus, it is both strange and sad that Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is forgettable in comparison.  It’s also poorly constructed and executed in a way that suggests Heidecker and Wareheim don’t understand movies the way they understand television.

The first sign of trouble is a lackluster opening where a narrator has to explain the setup of the film’s story to the audience rather than the filmmakers figuring out an interesting way to show it.  Here’s the short version: Tim and Eric (playing themselves as usual) received a billion dollars from foul-mouthed media magnate Tommy Schlaaang (Robert Loggia) to make a film but were only able to turn in three minutes of useable film.

When Schlaaang and his minions demand to be repaid, Tim and Eric hit the road to pursue a new gig that they see in a commercial: managing a mall.  Once they arrive at the new gig, they find a disaster full of unmarketable stores, half-wit proprietors and a feral wolf that stalks the “pizza court.”  The duo decides to tough it out and begins consulting with the proprietors to rebuild the mall – Eric even manages to fall in love with middle-aged balloon business owner Katie (Twink Caplan).  However, Schlaaang and his men won’t give up without a fight and close in on the mall as its grand re-opening approaches.

Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie tries to play it safe by preserving a lot of the characteristics from their show: there are plenty of satirical t.v. commercials and 1980’s-style musical interludes plus cameos by public access t.v. personalities like David Liebe Hart.  The cast is also studded with a variety of familiar actors and comedians in small roles: in addition to Loggia, you’ll also see Will Ferrell, Ray Wise, William Atherton, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte and Tim & Eric’s regular t.v. collaborator John C. Reilly.

Unfortunately, these familiar elements flounder in a movie-length setting.  Heidecker and Wareheim have been quoted as saying their shows run for 12 minutes because no one could take them at a longer length.  However, the real truth might be that they have trouble working outside that kind of short, rapid-fire format.  If they had turned their satirical minds to sending up the elements of cinematic storytelling, they could have successfully translated their style to the cinematic format.

Instead, they use a boilerplate “losers make good” comedy plot and plug in their staple t.v. elements to pad out the slim storyline.  They have good resources in their cast but have no idea how to use them to the best effect: Reilly comes off the best, managing to turn a “terminally ill manchild” concept into an actual character. The gags mostly die on the vine because Heidecker and Wareheim can’t cut away quickly like they do on t.v.  When they have to handle movie-style storytelling or character requirements, they simply don’t know what to do or how to satirize the form.  As a result of all these problems, Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie plays like a series of barely-developed ideas that just flop around like dying fish on the screen.

The end result has a few legitimately funny bits – the t.v. ad for the “premium body health” system Shrim is funny in the classic Awesome Show, Great Job style – but these workable moments are brief bright spots in a surprisingly dull movie.  For all their freaky-satire bravado, Heidecker and Wareheim have created what basically amounts to the kind of comedy Rob Schneider or Kevin James could make, just with weirder and grosser gags.  Diehard Tim And Eric fans will continue to insist that naysayers “don’t get it” but they should really be asking themselves if “it” is actually worth the effort.

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