There’s no denying a certain charm inherent to the Broken Lizard crew. Grating as they almost certainly are to your mom, there’s always been a joy guiding their work, and the pleasure of watching friends ham it up while operating on their own singular, sophomoric wavelength is a dying cinematic art. Broken Lizard’s particular brand is predicated on repetition — jokes, bits, sight gags — and intentional, unabashed fatuousness, which resulted in their big break when Super Troopers was declared as the best film of all time by a demo of five-Nattys-deep millennial frat bros across every American campus. But despite their specific flavor of lowbrow juvenalia and doofus man-children taking a backseat to someone like Will Ferrell’s in the aughts’ cultural zeitgeist, there’s more idiosyncrasy, and thus lasting power, in their work than something like the flaccid Blades of Glory, let alone the kinds of comedies directors were inexplicably allowing Rob Schneider to star in, for that matter. In their best moments, Broken Lizard’s work scanned something like diet Wet Hot American Summer — it was outlandish, yes, but devoid of any real eccentricity.
Of course, the group’s popularity predictably proved to be of the flash-in-the-pan variety, the diminishing returns and already exhausted ideas of Club Dread, Beerfest, and Slammin’ Salmon resulting in a decade-long disappearing act. Their latest film, Quasi, is the Lizards’ first non-sequel since 2009 (the less said about Super Troopers 2, the better), and finds the troupe slightly amending their formula. This time out, the comedic quintet — consisting of Steve Lemme, Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, and Kevin Heffernan (who directs) — goes full Monty Python, delivering a cartoonishly grimy period piece in which each of the principal Broken Lizard players pulls double- and even triple-duty in a variety of medieval caricature roles. Loosely based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (except, obviously, not really), Quasi follows Quasi Modo, a hunchbacked torturer who engages in a film-length game of hide-my-feelings with insecure best friend Duchamp (Heffernan) and becomes embroiled in competing assassination schemes between Pope Cornelius (Soter) and “King Guy” (Chandrasekhar). The group hangs their jokes on the architecture of the unlikely hero narrative, makes sure to leave space for ample silliness that lets viewers know how harmless this all is (and thus, how gently to judge it), and basically call it a day.
Which is to say, nothing much has changed. Broken Lizard might superficially tilt toward Monty Python with Quasi, and there’s no denying a certain spiritual kinship, but these are still the meow game guys, for better and mostly worse. It’s all simply too tired at this point. The particulars of humor barely matter, but here mostly consist of everyone being obsessed with oysters, delivering French words with an exaggerated accent, and bandying about insults like “douchebaguette.” In fairness, the group’s obsession with repetition can pay off in a few isolated moments: the line “Sacré bleu, it’s cordon bleu!” doesn’t hold much intrinsic comedic value, but after it’s repeated for the umpeenth time across only a few seconds, its brain-melting stupidity is likely to inspire a giggle from a not insignificant fraction of viewers. For some, this may be enough to justify the watch, and indeed it’s tough to bemoan these dudes getting the band back together. But it’s clear that this glorified hang out session is more for Broken Lizard than viewers. Good for them, but it takes a far better hook and loads more creativity, energy, and effort to convince viewers that it’s worth watching you pal around with your friends for 100 minutes. Broken Lizard may have made a career out of presenting themselves as jackasses on screen, but Jackass this is not.
You can currently stream Quasi on Hulu.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 17.