Last year's edition of "Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation" emphasized sure-sell familiarity over the shock of the new. Was there any good, nonmercenary reason for the inclusion of two "South Park" shorts -- one the already ubiquitous "The Spirit of Christmas" -- when the Colorado kids' own feature film was mere months away from release?
The inevitable backlash is reflected in this year's selection of totally tasteless 'toons, whose advertising promises "A whole shitload of NEW films!!!" Indeed, the vast majority of the 23 entries available for preview are "Spike & Mike" virgins, and all of them star characters who haven't found their way to the shelves of Spencer's. (There's nothing like a refrigerator magnet to take the edge off a wee-wee joke.)
A few lesser-known veterans, however, are back to engage in fresh mayhem. Sadly, the useless "No Neck Joe" is one of them, appearing in five punishingly unfunny vignettes based on the narrow premise that his head blends directly into his torso. (How's Joe gonna get a hickey from a sweet young thing when he's got no neck? Haw haw!)
More welcome is the return of everyone's favorite old codger in "Beyond Grandpa II," in which the irrepressible octogenarian visits the post office dressed as a hooker, heats up a swimming pool via natural means and then treats himself to an outdoor piñña colada, unaware that his shorts are failing to hide his personal equipment from passersby.
We won't predict that foxy Grandpa will never star in an Oscar-nominated full-length vehicle; there's too much evidence to the contrary. But Summer and Tiffany, the Californian minimum-wage workers who star in "Summer & Tiffany R Swing Sluts," may one day be headed for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, if only they can find the right script. "Swing Sluts" takes note-perfect Valley Girl dialogue and voice characterizations, applies them to a killer premise -- the girls throw themselves into the lounge movement -- and then makes us watch as its story goes nowhere. These two, like, deserve better.
The high point of wit is "The Beckers in 'Cannibalism and Your Teen,'" a black-and-white warning of the tragedies awaiting suburban youth who experiment with flesh-eating rituals. A concerned dad is never seen without his pipe in this surprisingly literate parody, which recalls the National Lampoon's closely observed deconstructions of '50s social mores.
Clever wordplay, though, is not the rock on which the "Spike & Mike" franchise stands. Exploding heads, masturbation and cruelty to defenseless creatures are what the public pays to see, and this year's compendium offers more than its share. Will it bother die-hards that many of the grosser shorts are underdeveloped blackouts whose credits occupy almost as much screen time as their solitary, load-blowing gags?
It's likewise dispiriting to note that the returning Quiet, Please, one of three repeat showings, is not just "the film that started it all" (again, we quote Spike and Mike themselves) but an orgy of atrocity that outdistances all of the new clips put together. There's nothing particularly keen about its preoccupation with sexual harassment, flatulence, profanity and infant torture, but the entire montage is delivered at such a hysterically fevered pitch that desensitization is never an option.
Its hilariously foul-mouthed lead character, who commits any number of deadly sins in his search for peace and quiet, neatly embodies the "Sick & Twisted" philosophy that no effort is wasted in the holy quest to make eyeballs pop. And subtlety only gets in the way. As Grandpa admits, "I'm just in it for the gay sex."
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