[25 January 2010]
Orange County Register (MCT)
Stop me if you’ve heard this.
In a movie or TV show, three friends are having a conversation. They might be at a party, in a restaurant or even at an outdoor event. One of the friends is sitting across from the other two and trash-talking about a fourth person. The two friends start acting strangely and their eyes widen as they try to warn their friend that the person being talked about is standing behind the talker.
All of a sudden, the talker realizes what is happening and says: “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
I’m not positive, but I believe I first saw this scene in “City Slickers” almost two decades ago, when Billy Crystal was badmouthing Jack Palance to friends Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby. The very scary Palance walks up, and Crystal says the familiar line, although it wasn’t familiar at the time.
I wish I had the statistics, but I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen this exact scene in a television or movie comedy since “City Slickers.”
Only the actors and locations change each time. And, of course, the number of people who laugh at that scene. Nothing is funny the 10th time you hear it.
The next time you will see this offending scene will be in the new romantic comedy “When in Rome,” which opens Jan. 29. I am not passing judgment on the movie, which I saw several weeks ago at a screening, but I am amazed and a little disappointed that someone thought it would be funny to repeat an overused gag like that.
It would be frightening to imagine that the person or persons who wrote that scene thought it was a new idea. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they knew exactly what they were doing. In other words, they were lazy and unoriginal.
When I complain about movie cliches, I’m not talking about classics comedy bits, such as slipping on a banana peel, a hit to the groin or passing gas in public.
No one has done that last one better than Mel Brooks in the iconic comedy “Blazing Saddles.” Has anyone ever eaten a side of baked beans and not thought of the campfire scene?
Still, many other filmmakers have turned on the gas for an easy laugh, and I have no problem with that. I have very pedestrian tastes in comedy, and the good old-fashioned fart gets me every time. The same with a good swift kick to the groin, although that might just be a guy thing. The banana peel isn’t really funny anymore, but Woody Allen used it to great effect in “Sleeper” (he used a giant peel).
Those are all funny sight gags, but the aforementioned “He’s standing right behind me” is an entire scene with dialogue. There should be a law against such thievery. There should be a hefty fine levied. The guilty filmmaker should be forced to watch “Daddy Day Camp” on a 24-hour loop.
I think it’s time to retire “He’s standing right behind me,” along with a few other bits that insult our intelligence.
For instance, is it really necessary for us to watch an action hero walk in slow motion away from an explosion? Yes, I know it’s an effective scene. It was effective the first two dozen times I saw it. Now, it is such a cliche that it diminishes not only the actor, but the genre as well.
Here’s another line of dialogue that needs to be put in mothballs: “Did I say that out loud?”
You know the scene. A character says something outrageous, and then says that. It was mildly funny the first time I heard it, and I think it was on a sitcom. People who write sitcoms are notorious comic repeaters.
And, while we’re putting overused phrases to bed, let’s ban “at the end of the day,” both in popular culture and in real life. I’ve heard people use it three times in the same sentence.
I’m glad that older actors are getting to star in the kind of action movies normally reserved for younger actors. But, if I hear “I’m too old for this” one more time, I’m going to scream.
I would like to see the makers of romantic comedies find an alternative to wisecracking best friends and funny gay next-door neighbors.
Finally, it would be nice if a female character cut her own hair in a movie, and it didn’t look like she just walked out of a Beverly Hills salon. I don’t know much about cutting hair, or even hair for that matter, but I’m pretty sure it’s difficult to cut your own hair in a dimly lit motel while on the run from assassins.
Let me know your pet peeves, and maybe we’ll do this again.