Once upon a time, film parodies, or spoofs as they are more commonly known, were something special. Great comic filmmakers could take a crack at whatever was big at the box office, producing laughs while also providing commentary on the subject and even the society around it. Mel Brooks had this down to a science with films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and in 1980, the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, cranked up the wacky dial with their disaster spoof Airplane.
With the arrival of the Wayans with 2000’s Scary Movie, however, something began to change. Jokes got cheaper, references got more obvious, and the need for a cohesive plot went out the window in lieu of more gags. The men who would cement this as the way forward, Jason Freidberg and Aaron Seltzer, attained cinematic infamy through their profitable series of Movie movies in the 2000s. However, cracks appeared long before this: in 1996, Spy Hard first employed ‘Seltzerberg’ to terribly spoof Bond, and in 1998, Ex-ZAZ teammate Pat Proft parodied 1993’s The Fugitive, along with a few other big 90s hits that in some way vaguely connect to Harrison Ford (and Titanic), in a tale about a violinist (Nielsen) on the run for a crime he didn’t commit while trying to find the real culprit. Wackiness ensues…
The challenge of reviewing spoofs from the last twenty years is how to keep it new and fresh. All the familiar sins are present: badly timed slapstick that amounts to little more than people banging into things with ridiculous sound effects? Check. Lame references at just about every corner (including, but not limited to The Empire Strikes Back, Charlie’s Angels, Usual Suspects, Braveheart and, of course, then phenomena Titanic) that are only funny because of what they are, not how they are used? Check. (Example: the opening has a theatre usher use a lightsaber to guide people to their seats. Yes, it’s that random). A wafer thin plot that is no more than a sloppy series of glorified sketches rather than a cohesive piece, unlike some of Proft’s past works (Airplane, Hot Shots 1 & 2)? Check, cut and print.
It’s perplexing how Proft got the basics, many of which he had helped create or refine, completely wrong: parody isn’t funny because you turn something popular silly and have everyone act goofy. Parodies work because it’s played straight, heightening how ridiculous the scenario is. Brooks and the early ZAZ films made fun of genre tropes and cliches, going from visual aesthetic to character archetypes to even the musical choices, but the characters and actors took it as seriously as any awards drama, thus allowing us to suspend disbelief and go with it.
Wrongfully Accused, has no such level of thought put into it, going for the easy laugh every chance it gets, and it’s a genuine shame as, from a technical standpoint, it’s hardly incompetent: Proft’s movie looks well produced, even sporting a fairly decent recreation of The Fugitive’s famous train crash, not to mention an actually compelling score by Rocky maestro Bill Conti that can turn from kooky to exciting on a dime. Even Nielsen is a reliable stalwart, going about the nonsense with his trademark oblivious grace, but everyone else is just pure caricature and mugging for the camera.
A few giggles do not a comedy make, and Wrongfully Accused served as another nail in the coffin of a once great comic filmmaker (on top of his penning the dreadful High School High and Mr Magoo movie the previous year, and then just giving up with the Scary Movie sequels). Maybe Proft went down the John Hughes path and got so burnt out by the system that he opted for easy paychecks, or, perhaps, he was only ever good in collaboration with others. Either way, terrible film, not recommended outside of Nielsen completionists.
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