It is perhaps a testament to the sheer Dadaist insanity of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s comedy personae that the cult duo’s first feature-length film, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, feels like a bit of a cop out even as it delivers one of the most transgressive viewing experiences of the year. In their move from 11-minute episodes on TV to 94 minutes, Tim and Eric have lost none of their hilarity or irreverence. But this time around, they somehow manage to be tedious, too.
Presented on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the five seasons of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! offered up bite-size fever dreams of randomized, nonsensical, occasionally even disturbing spoofs of movie genres, TV commercials, self-help videos, and pretty much anything else that inspired its creators. The movie does a bit of the same, but this time it’s saddled with a plot, albeit a very loosely defined one. Tim and Eric have been given a billion dollars to make a movie by the Schlaaang Corporation, but wind up in trouble when they deliver a five-minute piece of sub-Weinsteinian cinematic cheese starring a Johnny Depp impersonator. Intent on trying to pay Shlaaang back the billion dollars and avoiding the wrath of the company’s gangsterish boss (Robert Loggia), they find their opportunity in the hilariously rundown Swallow Valley Mall, whose owner (Will Ferrell) promises them a billion dollars if they can turn the place around. Determined to do a good job, Tim and Eric, having cleaned up and re-christened themselves as a PR company named DOBIS, set about cleaning up the wolf-infested, smoking ruin of a shopping center.
As is traditional, a surreal smorgasbord of poop, disease, penile mutilation, and carnage ensues. But it’s all presented with heaps of irony, so the crudeness takes on an almost highbrow, interventionist quality. Think of it this way: Anyone can dream up a disgusting scene in which a character lies in a tub and is shat on as part of a therapeutic treatment. Not everyone would be willing to intercut that with a scene of that same character’s beloved dream girl having gratuitously grotesque, dildo-assisted, and very fake-looking sex with his best friend.
Yes, with its nose-thumbing attitude to character development and its hilariously gory climax, the plot here is more a grisly pastiche than anything we’re supposed to take seriously. But even in spoof form, it feels like a sop to the demands of a feature narrative. We don’t really care whether Tim and Eric save the mall -- but for some reason the film pretends to, however knowingly. That’s kind of boring, and boring is the one thing the show, with its brief run time, distilled anarchy, and free-form structure, never was.
The disconnect is understandable, and not unusual. The random assemblages of Awesome Show would probably be headache-inducing at feature length. Monty Python, faced with a similar challenge decades ago, managed to counter the tedium of a plot by fragmenting it among their six-man troupe (who played multiple parts) and turning each scene into its own skit (with healthy assists from Terry Gilliam’s animations). Tim and Eric pretty much have just themselves (despite appearances in the film from numerous familiar faces, including series regulars Will Forte and John C. Reilly) and they stay mostly in character as themselves. This kind of focus is actually kind of unexpected, and admirable, in a way. And, to be fair, most Tim and Eric fans won’t be disappointed by Billion Dollar Movie. They just shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves checking their watches now and then.