Monday, December 9, 2013

Riske Business: 15 Reasons Comedy Sequels are the Worst

A few exceptions aside (see my picks at the end of this column), comedy sequels are awful. With Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues coming this month, I felt like it was a good time to dive into some reasons so many comedy sequels are unsuccessful.

I sincerely hope Anchorman 2 is an exception to the rule, but I am expecting the worst.
15. Really?
Comedy sequels have a tendency to feature all kinds of jump-the-shark moments that shit on the goodwill you have for characters from the original movie. An example is in Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. I thought the first Princess Diaries was totally fine, charming even, and then the sequel rolls around and there’s a sleepover sequence with fucking mattress surfing. So many things wrong with this. Anne Hathaway is supposed to be gearing up to run a country and she’s cutting loose by mattress surfing? Is she a moron? Why would an adult woman want to mattress surf? Imagine if Obama did this to unwind. This makes me very upset. A first entry in a comedy series wouldn’t dare mattress surf; comedy sequels do this shit all the time. This sequence makes me embarrassed to be a human being.

14. They Push Their Luck

Every once in a while, a colossally stupid idea strikes gold financially (or works better than it has any right to) and rather than run from the poker table, the filmmakers ante up again to much diminished returns. Big Momma’s House comes to mind. They’ve made three of these. It’s the Before... series of drag comedies. Other examples include Look Who’s Talking, Friday, Crocodile Dundee and the 3 Ninjas quadrilogy.
13. You’re Dated!
Ugh. Have you ever noticed how comedy sequels tend to go for the of-the-moment pop culture joke much more than the original did? Shrek is the worst for this reason. The original had its fair share of this sort of thing, but remember in Shrek 2 when they made that Sir Justin joke because Cameron Diaz was dating Justin Timberlake at the time? At least if you watched Shrek with your kid in 2013, you could just ignore The Matrix reference but you’re going to have to explain to your child what Sir Justin means. Have fun being an Us Weekly from 2004!

12. Characters are Too Specific
Certain comedies have characters that lend themselves to working only once. Wayne and Garth are funny the first time around, but once you’ve explored their metal love, the only place you have for them to go is Waynestock and repeat beats from the first movie (e.g. Christopher Walken in Wayne's World 2 is the same as Rob Lowe in the original). Or Harold and Kumar smoke weed. It makes sense for them to want to go to White Castle. But why would I care about them going to Guantanamo Bay?
11. Wicked Humor Gets Mean
In many sequels to buddy comedies or cop movies, the wisecracking hero transforms into an insufferable dick. Examples include Det. Carter (Chris Tucker) in Rush Hour 3, who is now attacking women and making fun of them because they’re fat, or Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop 2, who would rather shoot somebody than use his intellect and bravado. The worst offender is king dingaling Mike Lowrey in Bad Boys II. No longer is Mike the wisecracking partner you want on your side; now he’s the sociopath who seems to be orchestrating his own final solution.

10. Callbacks and Desperate Connections
Remember how many traps Macaulay Culkin repeated in Home Alone 2? Or what about the dance sequence between John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty? They were calling back to a moment that didn’t even belong to their own series. That’s like me taking credit for the work of a vineyard because I threw up from the wine they made.
9. Adding to the Lore
Comedies should never have lore. Just have a little bit of a story and be funny. I don’t give a damn about where Curly got his gold (City Slickers 2) or how Harry and Lloyd got to be the way they are (Dumb and Dumberer). We were more than ok in the originals not knowing every freaking detail about how we got to where we are.

8. New Setting, Repeat Beats
Not much to say here, but you can’t just change the location and expect the exact same lightning to strike the exact same bottle. It makes everyone involved in the movie seem cynical and lazy. The most egregious examples are The Hangover Part II and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
7. Fresh Take Becomes Formula
Remember how fresh and exciting Men in Black was even though it was essentially derivative of Ghostbusters? Comedy sequels almost always remove the spontaneity and exuberance that was evident in the original movie. That’s how you get a tired, generic Men in Black II. It can only be hip and new once before becoming old hat again. The original has the benefit of having its jokes come naturally from the world that’s being established. The sequel has jokes because the first one had jokes.

6. It’s the Performer, Not the Brand!
People liked Teen Wolf and The Mask because the lead performer (Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey) was an audience favorite – entertaining, funny and engendering goodwill. The filmmakers behind Son of the Mask and Teen Wolf Too learned the hard way that the premise wasn’t THE THING.
5. The Movie is an Excuse for the Cast to Hang Out
In other words, fuck you The Whole Ten Yards and Grown Ups 2. There’s almost nothing more irritating than an unwanted comedy sequel.

4. Bigger, Zanier Set Pieces
The series that comes to mind here is American Pie. When a comedy is a success, the filmmakers think that they have to go bigger in the sequel to give the audience bang for their buck. What they aren’t realizing is the in-between moments (the one-liners that are not part of the set piece) are what the audience comes back for. I don’t pop in the original American Pie so I can see Finch go number 2 or Jim to fuck a pie. Jim getting super glued in American Pie 2 may elevate the stakes, but it’s not twice as funny; it’s half as funny. Diminishing returns, yo!
3. They are Neutered for a Wider Audience
Comedies for grown-ups (not teenagers) are wonderful. That’s why it’s so disheartening for a solid R-rated comedy to vanilla up their brand of humor for a sequel in order to expand to kids. Why is Major League II rated PG? Kids don’t want to see grown-up ballplayers being idiots. They want to see kid baseball players being idiots. Major League II is a movie for no one. Another example is Blues Brothers 2000. Was any kid pumping their fist because the band incorporated an orphan? No, they weren’t, but a lot of adults were shaking their heads in disgust.

2. More Characters and Stupid Cameos
Comedy sequels seem to think cameos are so hilarious in concept that it doesn’t even matter that there is no joke. Haha, Tom Cruise shouldn’t be in Goldmember! And why do we need to Meet the Fockers? I like Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand is fine, but do we need to have a whole other movie to explore how Jewish people act Jewishy sometimes?
1. They Believe Their Own Hype
If I had to predict just one reason why Anchorman 2 might not work it would be because I think they really have bought into how hilarious they all are. Austin Powers ran into the same exact problem. The performers acted with such swag/smugness/self-awareness that it almost felt dirty to watch. If I wanted to see Mike Myers masturbate himself on-screen I would….nevermind, I don’t want to watch Mike Myers masturbate on-screen. Or off-screen. I bet he does voices during it. That guy is annoying.

Here are my choices for the best comedy sequels:

10. Ghostbusters 2
9. Back to the Future Part II
8. The Santa Clause 2

7.  The Naked Gun 2-1/2: The Smell of Fear
6. Clerks II
5. Rush Hour 2

4. Addams Family Values
3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
2. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

1. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

See? They knew what they were doing! #FThisMovieFest2


  1. Totally agree that "Naked Gun 2 1/2" are "Clerks II" are superior sequels. I actually prefer them to the originals (while still loving the latter) because they both expand/continue to deepen the characters and, personally, mine bigger/better jokes for more hilarious payoffs. I don't consider the "BTTF" comedies though, more like family-friendly action films. Haven't seen "Gremlins 2" and "Bogus Journey" enough to say they're as good as its predecessors. Personally I consider the first three Blake Edwards-helmed sequels to "The Pink Panther" ("A Shot In The Dark," "The Return of..." and "... Strikes Again") vastly superior to the sleep-inducing but classy first movie, which is a fine 60's jet-set travelogue that just didn't know what it had in Peter Sellers' Clouseau until after it was finished.

    And I can't believe an article about unnecessary comedy sequels doesn't use "Weekend at Bernie's II," "Another Stakeout" or any of the Peter Sellers-less "Pink Panther" sequels as examples. Drop down and give me 20, Riske! :-P

    1. Good call on A Shot in the Dark, for sure. I haven't really seen any of the other PP sequels, though.

    2. I forgot to include The Pink Panther Strikes Again in my top 10. I think that movie is pretty funny.

  2. I'm sort of shocked to see that my choice for all-time laziest comedy sequel, the execrable Caddyshack II, didn't make it into this piece. I agree with Vargas about A Shot in the Dark, and you're spot-on about Gremlins 2 and Bogus Journey being great. How lame are comedy sequels that Ghostbusters 2 could make any sort of top ten list? That is a sad state of affairs.

    1. Ghostbusters 2 was neck and neck with Scary Movie 3 for #10.

    2. I actually don't mind Ghostbusters 2. Its just that when compared to the majesty of the first film it falls so short. In a universe where only the second film exists it would not be seen as that bad.

    3. You're absolutely right. I think Ghostbusters 2 is totally fine. It's still fun.

  3. Oh, and I mentioned the problem of neutering them for a wider audience, and I recently rewatched the first 2 Police Academy movies. I was surprised to find that the PG-13 sequel had a couple of laughs, whereas I sat pretty much stone-faced through the R rated original. Haven't rewatched the PG rated 3rd entry, though, so I can't say if the dulling of the edges helped a series that was built on childishness in the first place.

  4. These are all great examples.

    Here's mine: Revenge of the Nerds 2 Nerds in Paradise.

    I think the first movie, made in 1984 (what a great year), is practically a masterpiece. It is funny, touching, silly, raunchy, sweet and gets everything done within 90 minutes. The cast is spot on in playing the characters realistically, within the frames of a college comedy. The movie is still surprising to this day.

    Then watch part 2. Besides the reduction in vulgarity, now being PG-13, the characters are turned into caricatures of who they once were. Oh, Booger showed a touch of this, a hint of that in the first one... Now he is that thing. Gone is the distinctive personalities that made the gang so appealing.

    The sequel is also a bland carbon copy remake of the first story, which is just lazy. Adding in a tank and military hardware raises the stakes but goes nowhere. They crash into a pool. Whatever.

    Poor Anthony Edwards had to come back to put in a cameo too (studio contract), after being in Top Gun.

    However, his appearance is still my favorite moment in the film. He is shown sitting in a wheelchair before the nerds head to Miami and wishes he could go with them, but he is now stuck in this chair.

    Lewis (Robert Carradine) looks at him and says, "Hey, don't sweat it. That was a very tricky chess move."

    In this movie, that line is about as solid gold as you get.

    Note: Any movie/tv show with Courtney Thorne Smith that isn't Summer School (another comedy classic) is usually pretty awful.

    1. I forgot she is also in Lucas. All is forgiven, Courtney.