-By Frank Lovece

For movie details, please click here.

Anyone who grew up reading Mad magazine knows the feeling: The newsstand's sold out, or didn't get it this week, and so you pick up an issue of Sick or Cracked instead. And I'm sorry, but it just ain't the same thing—everything feels diluted somehow, all the satiric slings and arrows are just a little off.

Now imagine getting a magazine five or six levels below that, and you've got Meet the Spartans. It's mind-boggling to consider that this witless, amateurish mess came from supposedly professional writers and directors. This would rate a C- at best if it were done as a student film.

Taking its cue from the scattershot Scary Movie franchise, which isn't brilliant but is at least for the most part professional-seeming, Meet the Spartans spurts out from, ironically, the writers of the first Scary Movie—and who have since demonstrated, with Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007) and now this, that they're as good at producing and directing as they would be at heavyweight boxing, cancer research or Mideast peace negotiations.

Specifically? Their jokes are old and unoriginal, for one thing. A Scarface "Say hello to my little friend" gag? Your kid brother could come up with that. Your mother could come up with that. A Paris Hilton parody that talks in, like, Valley-speak and is all, like, dumb and vacuous and superficial? Oh, that's so totally not awesome! ’Cuz, like, it's rilly, rillly, rilly old.

With a plot thread hanging like a Sword of Damocles, the story, such as it is, takes off from the movie 300, with fifth-century Spartan king Leonidas (Sean Maguire) facing off against the forces of Persian king Xerxes (Ken Davitian) in the Battle of Thermopylae, here reduced to the skirmish and dance-off of Thermopylae. Leonidas is aided by his Captain (Kevin Sorbo, who throws in the expected joke about his old Hercules TV-series role), the Captain's son Sonio (Travis Van Winkle), and fat future-survivor Dilio (Jareb Dauplaise). "What's the dilio?" being a dated phrase already a decade ago makes that particular joke just one more example of how lazy and unimaginative co-concocters Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are. In the course of things, the Persian messenger (Phil Morris) gets pushed into the pit of death, followed by parody versions of Britney Spears—oh, that's original, none of us could ever have thought to make fun of Britney Spears—and other safe and easy targets.

If you find effluvia funny, the movie will have you rollicking with everything from gobs of spit to penguin droppings. If you want routines that might have been funny for a minute stretched out like taffy to fill time, here's your film. The cheap-looking sets and cheesy special effects seem far less comments on the waste and excess of Hollywood than simple money-saving measures. And the mostly uninspired sight gags involve a mincing gay joke every ten seconds. The whole thing is, in fact, way-gay in a manner that means both lame and homosexual, though I think they're aiming for homophobic. It's not reassuring that an urban audience at one of the sold-out Friday shows for this unscreened-for-critics movie thought it was just freakin' funny.

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