Contrary to what the title promises, most of the films that are spoofed in the feature-length parody Epic Movie aren't really epics at all, just a random assortment of blockbusters that have lit up the box-office charts over the past two years. The first ten minutes alone includes lame send-ups of The Da Vinci Code, Nacho Libre, Snakes on a Plane and X-Men: The Last Stand before moving on to a lengthy--and resoundingly unfunny--sequence that combines Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the Saw series. Almost a half-hour elapses before we get a spoof of a film that can actually be considered an epic, albeit one of the kiddie variety. That would be The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and co-writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer borrow that film's narrative engine to drive what little story exists here.

As in C.S. Lewis' classic tale, Epic Movie follows the journey of four youths, stalwart Peter (Adam Campbell), snotty Edward (Kal Penn), self-possessed Susan (Faune Chambers) and baby Lucy (Jayma Mays) through the magical world of Gnarnia. Their quest--if they choose to accept it--is to vanquish the evil White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge) who has blanketed the land in ice and snow. But before they can march into battle, they must first learn the art of war from a middle-aged Harry Potter (Kevin McDonald) and then join forces with the lion Aslo (Fred Willard). Along the road to the climactic showdown, the films takes the occasional detour into summer blockbusters like Superman Returns, Pirates of the Caribbean and Click and gives shout-outs to such TV shows as "Punk'd," "Laguna Beach" and "MTV Cribs."

What makes Epic Movie such an unpleasant endurance test isn't its rampant stupidity or slavish reliance on crude humor--it's the sheer laziness on display throughout. On a purely technical level, the film contains so many continuity errors and sloppily framed shots, it could have been directed by Woody Allen's blind filmmaker from Hollywood Ending. Friedberg and Seltzer didn't put a lot of effort into their screenplay either, as they regularly go for the most obvious gag in every scene. (Hence, Captain Jack Sparrow becomes Captain Jack Swallows and Wonka's chocolate river is actually made of...well, figure it for yourself.) Sometimes they don't even bother to write jokes and instead simply have the characters repeat lines and bits of business from the movie being spoofed, as if repetition is hilarious in and of itself.

But the film's shoddiness didn't seem to faze moviegoers under the age of 18, who turned out in force for Epic Movie just as they flocked to Date Movie and Scary Movie 4 last year. The showing I attended was packed with teenagers and several younger kids who were accompanied by their parents, many of whom probably saw Airplane! with their folks 20 years ago. Indeed, one could make the argument that those of us who grew up watching (and re-watching) movies like Airplane!, Top Secret and The Naked Gun sound like grumpy old men when we criticize this new generation of spoofs. And while it's true that those comedies were often as technically incompetent and juvenile as the ones in multiplexes today, they at least made an effort to include gags that were tremendously witty and even--gasp!--intelligent. It's telling that in the entire 86 minutes of Epic Movie there's not a single joke that's as memorable as this immortal exchange from Airplane!:
"Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious...and don't call me Shirley."