Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bumfights (2002)

Why, oh why, have we embedded into our brain cells to laugh or be entertained by the tragedy, pain, and misery of others? There must be some reason because Hollywood provides us with many opportunities to do just that. That’s why we get America’s Funniest Home Videos, the Jackass saga, The Jerry Springer Show (to some degree), and the endless supply of barbaric, lurid, torture porn horror movies.

OK, maybe that last one is a little looser, but you know how I mentioned Jackass? You know, the vulgar but hilarious juggernaut that swept a nation, particularly in the teenage or frat boy category, and influenced many others to cash in on their success? After all, people thought, it shouldn’t be hard. Just get a bunch of idiots, grab $20, and film those idiots doing stupid stuff, right? While I won’t go into how wrongheaded that mentality is, one group of people that possess that mentality is the creators of a short-lived documentary film series, Bumfights. Comparisons of this film to Jackass are inevitable, but unwelcome.

To be honest, I’ve only seen about 35, maybe 40, minutes of the film, seeing how when I watched it on YouTube, it was in four parts, but only the first three parts were uploaded. I presume the fourth part got removed for copyright violations or some bullcrap. But seeing how this film doesn’t have a cohesive, fluid narrative structure, I feel like it is apt to review this mongrel.

Plot synopsis? A group of unknown guys (the producers of this film) go around filming homeless men fighting or performing amateur stunts in exchange for rewards, particularly alcohol. There. That synopsis wasn’t very deep, but this isn’t that kind of film. While I probably shouldn’t do this, I won’t mention any of these people’s names.

The filmmakers of this gained notoriety when in 2006, producer Ty Beeson made an appearance on Dr. Phil and became the only person in the history of that show to be kicked off the stage. I saw the clips and it seemed harmless enough. Bums doing stupid stunts? It sounded like Jackass and I love that show. Dr. Phil just needed to get a sense of humor, I thought. After seeing this crap, I have a whole new respect for Dr. Phil and, in the holy heavens, thank him for kicking that dude off the set and for keeping his cool, as opposed to squeezing the life out of him, much like I wanna do.

The portrayal of bums is disgusting, to the utmost degree. These people view bums as drunk, vulnerable, toyetic morons. They, also, take it one step further by painting African-Americans in a negative light. One African-American is an annoying, fast-talking crack dealer. Another is a crack whore. All the others are moronic, violent, uninteresting, or all three. Is this seriously how they want to portray African-Americans? I sure hope not.

It is absolutely horrible what these bums have to go through. Now, some may say that these homeless people volunteered to be in this documentary and that they are performing these acts out of freewill and desire. Well, let’s take a second and look at Jackass. I know I said that comparisons to Jackass are unwelcome, but in order to convey how inhumane this reprehensible load of manure is, I have to. The Jackass crew is doing this stuff out of freewill and desire. They don’t care about a paycheck or fame. It is a major benefit, but they do it to amuse themselves.

The homeless people featured in this film and the other films in the franchise are doing this not out of want, but out of questionable need. If they do this, they’ll get money, alcohol, drugs, what have you. They’d prefer not to do this, but if they want this or this, they’ll do it. The Bumfights creators know it themselves. It is the cinematic equivalent of holding catnip way up high while your cat is reaching and struggling to obtain it. They aren’t volunteering. They are being taunted. This is sheer exploitation that demeans homeless people. I felt dirty while watching it.

Not only is the content crass, but it is listless and derivative. Fighting is a sure way to get the testosterone pumping in males, be it in real life or on television. Boxing and wrestling are two fine examples. They are cool because the participants are interesting beings and have a passion to just beat the crap out of the opponent. Not to mention their awesome fighting skills.

Real-life combat, outside of reality television, is a different story. While a real fight has an aforementioned passion vibrating in the souls of the fighters, it’s a different kind. Boxers and wrestlers have more of a determined “I’m-gonna-win” passion that gains momentum and intensity as the event goes on, which makes it so unrelentingly watchable. Real-life fighting that’s non-competitive has an angry, hateful passion with inner constraints that don’t allow any other feeling to pass and no creativity in the fighting moves. Seeing how it usually comes out of nowhere, it’s exciting, only for the time being. Therefore, making a whole documentary film that hinges on that heated, prize-deprived, goalless style of fighting is an ill-conceived plan.

Making a whole documentary film that hinges on that style of fighting with homeless people inserted into it is an ill-conceived plan on a whole other level. Aside from the obvious saddening feeling that is generated, there is no other emotional response or subtext and after, say, three fights, it becomes numbing to the senses. Plus, at times it is ambiguous whether some of the people are homeless or not. I know not all homeless people are the dirty, unkempt archetype, but I heard some of the fighters are teenagers. Are those just punks or teenagers kicked out of their homes? Either way, they still remain less than compelling.

This film balances out that fighting footage with the aforesaid stunts in a similar fashion of the Big Brother videos. For those who don’t know, Big Brother was the magazine that eventually evolved into Jackass. The magazine used videos to promote itself, I guess. They combined skateboarding clips and stunts, some of which would be used in Jackass. The stunts in those videos were intriguing. The stunts on Bumfights are dull and pathetic.

Most of the stunts are so tame that I could do them. Those stunts I am referring to usually involve bums running into stuff. The idea, I guess, is for them to hurt their heads, but it seems relatively safe and restrained. Other stunts draw unavoidable parallels to Jackass. There are, maybe, three stunts that I found to be creative. 

Also, shockingly enough, the filmmakers squander potential. For example, this film marked the beginning of the appearance of Rufus, who I suppose is idealized to be the Bumfights mascot. Rufus is awesome, but yet they treat him like he's the bastard step-child of the film by making him do amateurish, unimpressive, underwhelming stunts. To make it worse, in the middle of this stunt compiling, they add a visual non-sequitir where a goat urinates. I am aware that Jackass did non-sequitirs, but it added to the charm and gleeful surrealness of the show. Here, it adds to the film’s incompetence. These filmmakers haven’t earned the right to do a non-sequitir where most of the stunts that make sense in the film’s context fall flat to start out with.

One stunt that left me baffled and scratching my head was a certain stunt where a bum dressed in a dog costume. He brings its tail to the front, presumably to make it look like he’s holding his weiner. He swings it around and then goes over towards a child, still swinging it. While I am all for shattering the boundaries of political correctness and conquering social taboos, isn’t there a line between the audacious and the tasteless? What were they thinking?

What surprised me was that homeless people didn’t perform a majority of the stunts. Many stunts are performed towards homeless people. Scenes like those evoked a quote from beloved film critic Roger Ebert. When he was doing his television show, he stated that he believed that “humor works if you make fun of somebody’s character, but not if you make fun of their status." 

Then, as I thought of that quote, I was reminded of how Jackass did pranks on unsuspecting individuals so seamlessly. The secret was their hidden logic. The pranks that were performed didn’t affect the victim or victims on a physical level. It affected them on an emotional level, unless the prank was among the Jackass cast. When the Jackass crew went out in public for a prank, they were prescient in that they knew they’d receive a visceral response from people, be it tolerant, irritated, scared, frustrated, or befuddled. That logic can be applied to pranks, in general.

Then, I thought of the fact that they involved homeless people for their pranks. I can think of two occasions: 1) Street Fishing and 2) Skid Row Santa. However, Street Fishing wasn’t directly towards homeless people, even though it would be simple and obvious for it to go that route. It affected everyone. When we see a dollar on the street, our first instinct is to pick it up. Maybe we could use that to buy someone or be one step closer to paying your monthly bill. As far as Skid Row Santa, that was a prank in concept, not execution. The idea that Santa would go to Skid Row to give food to homeless people is pretty damn absurd. However, when seen on television, it adds an uncovered layer of poignancy, compassion, and humanity that many fans thought to have been non-existent.

Treating a homeless person like an animal or spray-painting their sleeping bag in the middle of the night, while it may be creative in the filmmakers’ sick little minds, is not funny. These filmmakers have no humanity or compassion towards their subject. They are cruel, immoral, money-grabbing sadomasochists.

What I particularly loathe about this film is their need to make it hip. They want to slather themselves with all of this mindless violence and bar-lowering humor and yet want to think it fits in with pop culture and the social norm. There are scenes where, out of nowhere, a hot chick pops up on screen on a bed, posing sexually. Do we know who this girl is? No. Are we ever told? No. Does she play any important role in this film? No. So why is this chick in the film? Is the film trying to say that chicks are aroused by brutal violence and homeless people making a fool out of themselves? 

And, I hate to bring my male tendencies and instincts into this review, but they don’t even give us a nude scene with her. They tantalize us with one, but the girl has her lady bits covered. I don’t mean to sound misogynist, but let me get this straight. You can show all of this mindless, sickening crap, but showing a shot of a naked woman is going too far? Great logic, guys!

Another thing that frightens me about the film connects to an interview with Ty Beeson that preceded the segment of him getting the boot on Dr. Phil. The interview ended with the words, “It’s a sick world.” Hearing that made me ponder as to whether his warped, twisted mind has led him to believe that his films are actually a social commentary on the way society treats homeless people, a wake-up call of some sorts. 

Social commentary and wake-up call, my ass. This film has no insights in the problems of a homeless person. It glamorizes violence, humiliates and disgraces homeless people, and extracts the most vile, execrable, nihilistic values in order to pander to its audience, which probably fall in the lowest common denominator of society, and to self-indulge itself.

Yes, nihilistic. Consider a caption that precedes a Bumfighter sketch that reads, “Very few bums were harmed in the making of this sketch. All were released back to its natural habitat.” NATURAL HABITAT? Are you shitting me up the ass? You think the habitat they live in is natural? The unstable climate? The garbage they have to eat? The many fingers pointing at them with disgust and contempt? You think they want to live a homeless lifestyle? I know this supposed to be a joke, but it’s not freaking funny! You calling them animals? They put up with all of your crap and you insult them and give them a few measly dollars for some crack? Do you think that’s generous? Nothing in this film is generous! It’s evil, psychotic, and deplorable!

However, what may be the worst thing about this film, beside the fact that it’s ugly, cruel, despicable, vulgar, malicious, heartless, and is devoid of laughs, humanity, charm, or competence, is that it’s deadening. Not only is it emotional shallow, but it is hollow, empty, and barren. There’s nothing to feel about this film. Nothing. At least Jackass evoked a sense of committed camaraderie. It isn’t merely a jaw-droppingly misguided, morally disturbed, and profoundly disgusting film; it is also just a waste of time and space. And, surprisingly enough, that may be the biggest insult of all.

RATING: Three-quarters of a star out of four (I thought about giving this film one star, but that’d be complimenting it)

P.S. Today, I had a double dosage of crap. Not only did I watch one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but I also saw one of Nickelodeon’s worst television shows, Marvin Marvin. I don’t review television shows and I’m not going to. I’m just giving you a gist of it and saying that Lucas Cruikshank has sold its soul. What became one of the quirkiest, provocative, and funniest stars on the Internet has deteriorated into starring in one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. Ditto to Nickelodeon. What started as an innovative television network for children that produced joyfully surreal live-action shows and groundbreaking animated shows has delved into rote, unfunny, clichéd, by-the-numbers, labored, trite teen-com fare. Recently, iCarly, one of Nickelodeon’s best shows, ended its five-year run. What better way to celebrate the end of that really funny show than by beginning the airing of one of Nickelodeon’s worst? I normally wouldn’t give attention to a bad TV show. I’m just doing it as a way to warn you and to hope that we can get this stupid show off the air. I’d give it a high 1 star, just because it delivers intermittent laughs, rarely though.

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