YouTube, the ten-year-old site responsible for re-formatting how we perceive short-form comedy today, naturally hasn’t transitioned well into the larger form. Every time these online-championed personalities go for the extra mile, they end up producing fairly middle-of-the-road efforts — Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie and Derrick Comedy’s Mystery Team come to mind — or some disasters so disgraceful to cinema, it’s shocking to think these people found a following in the first place. Shane Dawson’s Not Cool is a perfect example of this.
While not near as eye-bulgingly, mind-shatteringly awful as the latter, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla — late 20s comedic actors known best collectively as Smosh — don’t fair much better with their big screen debut. Smosh: The Movie is sophomoric, pulseless, poorly paced and awkwardly handled, but that much was to be expected. What makes it so frustrating is how relentlessly apathetic everyone involved is regarding how low they can set the bar. When making something as careless as this, it’s fair to expect something unapologetically crass, with more than a handful of hits below-the-belt if they can even reach so high. Shameless and game-faced, Hecox and Padilla don’t necessarily have a bad screen presence, but their who-cares mentality and attitude to the project makes its mildly creative tendencies more soulless and disgusting as they slouch their shoulders and drag their feet through this creatively bankrupt comedy.
The plot follows Ian and Anthony as somewhere between notched-down variations of their online personalities and Bill & Ted wannabes as we follow these two losers — one a pizza boy, the other a stay-at-home who spends his time idolizing a character credited solely as “Butt Massage Girl” — as they visit the headquarters of YouTube, run by Steve YouTube (Michael Ian Black) — a joke they run into the ground faster than you can say Mike Myspace — as they go into the heart of the video streaming site. Their reasoning for this is simple: they need to take down an embarrassing video of Anthony involving their high school stage, a microphone and his anus as it rapidly picks up hits days before their five-year reunion.
The goal is to get the video down before the online star’s flame, Anna (Jillian Nelson), remembers the embarrassing incident and decides he’s updatable. Chaos involving cheap slapstick, Pokémon rip-offs, an exploding kitten and 10-year-old boys’ idealism of masculinity ensues. Cameos from Stone Cold Steve Austin, Jenna Marbles and Harley Morenstein appear in the process. Everyone makes an ass out of themselves, and it makes a very, very hard case for why anyone would even think would pay to see these personalities if this is their A-game material.
As YouTubers, Ian and Anthony are wise enough to get in and get out even with their motion picture release, clocking this in at a lean 84 minutes. That doesn’t make Smosh: The Movie any less painless or embarrassing, however. This would be extricating even if it were under 10 minutes. The comedy team neither writes nor directs this; those credits belong to actor Alex Winter and scribes Eric Falconer and Steve Marmel, respectively. It’s not fair to place the blame entirely on them the same way it’s so necessary to discredit Dawson’s garbage heap.
They’re mostly here for the quick buck and to get to be on the center stage of a major motion picture, and they don’t necessarily hide this. And while there is an occasional earnest glee in their eyes, it’s as if their energy and pride is drained through an overused, hole-ridden straw. Executive producers in addition to actors, Smosh: The Movie comes across as tame even by their PG-13 standards. There’s no desire to pounce or push their creative desires. They settle for mediocrity and decide its best to make themselves comfortable with generic clichés, at the risk of even slightly alienating their fanbase with something interesting or inspired.
As we watch a barrage of bathroom humor and dick jokes, after a while it doesn’t look as though the leads are having fun. While not necessarily bored-looking, Ian and Anthony give such oddly workman performances in what should be a passion project. After a while, there's such a desire to get this over-and-done with that it's almost as if they've lost faith in their work. It’s weird they have Bill himself involved with this, but it's weird that even he couldn’t capture this zany spirit under his own supervision. Maybe that long-proposed third Bill & Ted movie isn’t worth the hassle if this is where it'll go.
In a word, it’s kinda pathetic — not to mention falsely stimulated by an ego created by getting this made at all. It's also pretty confused as far as where it even wants to go with its lowbrow sense of humor, but when your screenplay comes from both the creator of Blue Mountain State and a Nickelodeon writer behind Fairly Oddparents and Danny Phantom, it’s not hard to see where things become lopsided. Smosh: The Movie wonders between childish humor and horny pre-teen humor without any sensitivity or reason, trying to strike the 11-year-old male demographic that likely won’t have the patience to deal with such inconsistencies in the first place.
Wore yet, Winter’s movie never takes any opportunities to add commentary on the state of YouTube, or develop these beloved characters to become, you know, people. This is a goofball buddy comedy from beginning-to-end, which is well and good if or when you care enough to foster an emotional core, like Superbad, or simply concentrate on creating good jokes directed towards these idiots at the blissful expense of others, like the first Dumb and Dumber. Just letting them deal with kids who take dumps on their car or getting punched in the face a lot by mailmen (or themselves) isn’t fun if there’s no stakes and care placed inside. Furthermore, if you’re going to make a premise with characters toying in the world of YouTube, play with your settings. Only having one buffering joke or heartless pop-ups isn’t fun if it doesn’t mean anything. Even if the budget is low, having fun with your friends and see where you can go, like the Nerd did.
None of this comes to play, and having this be subhuman in approach almost makes the movie as much of an abomination as Not Cool. To date, the only YouTube to really make their comedy pop on the big screen was The Exquisite Corpse Project from Olde English Comedy. They used the long-form narrative to produce something speaking to themselves and their maturity as artists as they still entertained their audience. Smosh: The Movie, in that sense, is the complete opposite. It’s toothless, sloppy and mind-numbing, and if this is the future of comedy, I’m gonna unsubscribe as soon as I can.