Browsing through YouTube.com at work today, I came across some clips of the new comedy “Reno 911!:Miami.” The movie’s studio put them there to promote the movie during its ever-so-crucial opening weekend. The tagline attached to the clips read: “Borat with a Badge.”
It’s typical marketing—piggy back a new film with a mega-successful one and hope people will check it out. But if every comedy coming out of Hollywood now is to be filmed in a fake “reality” style, we should prepare ourselves for the worst. The freshness of “Borat” and clever TV shows like “The Office” will all but disappear under the weight of a hundred less-funny pretenders like “Reno 911!:Miami.”
Obviously, “Reno” was made before “Borat” raked it in at the box office late last year, so it is not merely an attempt to cash in. The problem is that it utilizes the same low-budget techniques, but does not deliver the laughs. This Comedy Central TV spin-off owes as much to real-life police show “COPS” as it does to Christopher Guest’s “mockumentaries.” Like its arresting and disturbing reality counterpart, an unseen camera crew follows the officers around as they encounter people who live on the fringe of society. The difference is that Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon) and his sexually frustrated band of fools are as much on the fringe as the citizens that they roust.
The flimsy plot is nothing more than a set-up to get the idiots from small-time Reno patrolling the tough streets of Miami, which sounds like a promising start to a funny film. Unfortunately, there’s only so many times that the clueless deputies can get run away from alligators or have to clear a beached whale. Rather than facing off against some real heavies, the officers are stuck with poor Paul Rudd in a disco outfit and a bad Al Pacino-as-Scarface accent.
If this all seems like small potatoes for a feature-length film, that’s because it really is. When a television show comes to the movie theater, one expects them to raise the stakes, or at least the budget. Directed by cast member Robert Ben Garant (who plays the dense Deputy Travis Junior), “Reno 911!: Miami” has the look and feel of its TV counterpart—only worse. It is marred by a lack of inspiration, some flat celebrity cameos, and the same gay jokes and identical situations over and over again. At 81 minutes, it is still more economical than most movies, but the minute-per-laugh ratio is desperately low. At around twenty minutes (not counting commercials), the television series fares much better.
Clearly relishing the opportunity to raunch it up in an R-rated picture, Garant and crew are like kids in a candy store. They fall back on all kinds of gross-out sex humor not allowed on TV. Bare breasts, flabby buttocks, men’s thong underwear—you name it, “Reno” has it. I have no problem with lowbrow humor, as long as it is done cleverly. The lowest common denominator humor of this movie, though, just seems desperate and tired.
I know there is more to these characters then was portrayed in the movie, but their individual stories on the big screen go nowhere. It feels as if they were cut out because they weren’t funny enough, and the one running joke about a mysterious tattoo that is built up throughout the picture goes out with a listless whimper rather than a bang.
One moment did stand out, however, coming from as unlikely an inspiration as suspense master Alfred Hitchcock. During a “Rear Window”-like motel scene, the camera pans back and forth across the characters’ rooms in real time, witnessing some pathetically funny acts of loneliness after a particularly drunken night out. Lowbrow humor is a tricky thing, but can be hilarious when it is done well. More imaginative scenes like that and less regression into tediousness might have saved “Reno 911!: Miami” from being a dull and disappointing affair.