The Sundance Review Revue: TIM AND ERIC'S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE
The Sundance Film Festival is known as a haven for indie filmmakers, but over its history it’s also been a very welcoming venue for indie-minded TV-makers as well. A surprising number of films spun off from television shows have premiered in Park City over the years, from WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (from the creators of The State) to RUN RONNIE RUN (from the creators of Mr. Show) to STRANGERS WITH CANDY (from the creators of either Temptation Island or Strangers With Candy, I forget.). To that great tradition, we now add TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, written and directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, and made in the style of their beloved cult Adult Swim series, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! If you’re not familiar with Tim and Eric, I’m not inserting superlatives into the title; that’s the name of the show. And if you’re not familiar with Tim and Eric at this point, you probably don’t need to rush out to see their BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, as word out of Park City indicates it’s largely a for-die-hard-fans-only affair.
If you’re not familiar, Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show is a sketch comedy compilation of fake commercials, public-access-style TV inanity, and random weirdness. Plenty of television shows, particularly sketch shows like Tim and Eric, have struggled with the transition from the small screen to the big one, especially in the area of runtime. 30 minutes of non sequiturs and unrelated gross-out gags can be fantastic; 90 minutes of the exact same thing can be brutal. In the case of Tim and Eric, their television show wasn’t even 30 minutes long — each Awesome Show runs just under 15 minutes, making BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE the equivalent of roughly eight episodes, a veritable marathon of kooky stoner humor. And according to Jordan Hoffman from IFC.com, that’s the problem. “It is hilarious and innovative,” Hoffman says, “but relentless and exhausting… It will simultaneously blow your mind and test your patience.”
After a series of Awesome Show-ish teases, BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE eventually settles into something Tim and Eric aren’t terribly familiar with: a story. The duo play versions of themselves, two dudes who get a billion dollar budget to make a movie, promptly waste all of it, and need to find a way to repay their mobster financier (Robbert Loggia). Eventually they stumble on a derelict shopping mall — inhabited by characters played by the likes of Will Forte, John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, and others — and try to refurbish it to turn a profit.
“If your eyes are glazing over with all this plot synopsis, imagine sitting through it,” says Eric Kohn of Indiewire, who agrees with Hoffman that feature length doesn’t really agree with Tim and Eric. “By virtue of its unevenness, BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE makes a cogent argument for why some entertainment belongs in the short form,” writes Kohn. “Tim and Eric don’t need structure; concision is their greatest coup, and the 90-minute length of BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE undoes it.” John Anderson from Variety agrees that BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE proves that “less is definitely more.” I’m not sure if he’s referring to the runtime or the budget there — maybe it’s both (he also throws in a hilarious Variety-ism at the end: “Tech credits are intentionally inept.” Why do I think Tim and Eric are going to cut that part out and frame it somewhere?)
There’s not too much deviation from the critical mean here, just degrees of being more or less entertained by Tim and Eric’s humor. Simon Abrams from Slant has some fun explaining the plot — “Rest assured, that is definitely a bad Johnny Depp impersonator, that is a metal stud being jammed into a prosthetic penis” — while also acknowledging that the take-it-or-leave-it approach that served the duo so well on television is “more tedious when used in a feature film.” And John DeFore from The Hollywood Reporter wondered whether hardcore Tim and Eric partisans might not even enjoy BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, writing that “some confirmed fans may walk away convinced that web shorts and Adult Swim micro-shows are the maximum recommended dosage for these mood-altering auteurs.”
So it sadly appears that we can’t say you did a great job, Tim and Eric, but you still have an awesome show. And if the movie game doesn’t work out in the short term — both also appear in the U.S. Dramatic selection THE COMEDY, which premiered yesterday to mixed reviews — there’s always more television.
To find more TIM AND ERIC festival screenings, go to Sundance.org.