The humor in the relentless "300" spoof "Meet the Spartans" runs the gamut from S to R: It opens with a "Shrek" gag and ends with one about "Rambo." In between come jokes about everything from Britney Spears and Gatorade ads to "American Idol" and Paris Hilton (she's the one who betrays the Spartans to the Persians!). It's a pop culture Thermopylae.
Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who wrote and directed "Meet the Spartans," make a living as cultural-reference bottom feeders. They're part of the "Scary Movie" franchise and made both "Date Movie" and, their most recent effort before "Spartans," last year's "Epic Movie."
If only because "300" provides such a solid (as well as ludicrous) spine to hang a parody on, "Meet the Spartans" is an improvement over "Epic Movie," a take-off on the "Harry Potter" and "Narnia" series. It also cuts back on the earlier movie's general scuzziness, even if it does have a fair amount of specific scuzziness (hard to avoid with Carmen Electra as the female lead).
The best thing in "Meet the Spartans" is the swift kick in the bombast it delivers to the oh-no-not-us homoeroticism of "300." When the warriors - all 13 of them - head off to war, they do so singing "I Will Survive." (The idea is much funnier than the execution, but the execution is still pretty funny.) Sean Maguire, who looks like a rough trade George Clooney, does a good job as King Leonidas. He has a raw-leather voice that sounds great whenever he bellows out "Spartans, prepare to die!" which is often. Acquitting herself almost as well is Nicole Parker, of "MADtv," who impersonates Spears, Hilton, Paula Abdul, and does a spot-on Ellen DeGeneres.
Parker's day job indicates the basic problem with "Meet the Spartans" (assuming, that is, you don't mind endless crotch jokes, bodily-fluid jokes, and jokes that hinge on boldface names): It's a "MADtv" or "Saturday Night Live" sketch dressed up in feature-length clothing. It's way too much of an OK thing. And the way-too-much-ness goes on and on. The closing credit sequence gets interrupted for a five-minute parade of bits that Friedberg and Seltzer liked (presumably) but couldn't fit in.
Maybe they should try spoofing "300" again, only next time using foreign film as a framing device rather than trash culture. They could trade one Paris for another and call it "The 300 Blows."
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.