Does knowing that Tom Cruise is really short -- "legally a Hobbit," according to the Reduced Shakespeare Company's latest show, "Completely Hollywood (abridged)" -- make you feel like an insider? If so, you might be just the target audience for this pastiche, which, in alluding to 175 movies in 100 minutes, comes across as more like a trivia contest than a pointed parody.
Beyond the few front-rowers lured onstage to play extras, the audience's role is to congratulate itself on catching the fast-moving references, most of which are fairly obvious. Despite a few clever lines and the occasional amusing sight gag, this supposed sendup of Hollywood proves as formulaic as the genres it lampoons.
The first act is structured around twisted versions of the kind of tips that crop up in countless screenwriting manuals: e.g., "All new movies are just a combination of two old movies." As the three performers rattle off prospective titles -- "Singin' in the Rainman," "My Left Footloose," "A Fish Called Rwanda," etc. -- it sounds like a great late-night parlor game, but one that's perhaps more fun to play than to watch. When they take the time to enact one of these scenarios, "Darcy's Angels" (the actors don bonnets and mimic action feats while talking Austen), the result isn't especially hilarious.
Another cardinal rule proposed is that "There are only two movie plots," specifically "coming of age" or "fish out of water." One performer (longtime RSC vet Reed Martin, who mostly plays a director figure) begs to differ: The categories, he insists, are "boy meets girl" or "the Jesus story." A couple of quick movie synopses get sorted into their respective categories, and yes, either binary system seems to work equally well.
The second half of the program involves the "filming" of a script cobbled together from the three performers' would-be magna opera ("In Hollywood, every moron has written a screenplay," runs another dictum): "Battle for the Planet of the Revenge of the Human Soul." It's here that audience volunteers get to play "mall people" who turn into zombies -- a nice segue, and no doubt a hoot for those scoring stage time.
Overall, though, the show is just too scattershot and diffuse. The script never alights on any one spoof long enough to make a dent, and some of the targets are overly easy ("Ahnold" is very old news, as is the diminutive Cruise). Despite the considerable skills of the players -- especially Steve Marvel as a career narcissist, and acrobatic newcomer Dominic Conti -- the exercise tends to grow tedious.
We've been spoiled, perhaps, by the witty parodies found on "MadTV" (and to a lesser, lamer extent the zomboid remains of "Saturday Night Live") and, locally, by the clever cross-pollinations that Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans concoct. Starting out as street performers in the early '80s, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has gone on to garner international acclaim for its irreverent condensations of great bodies of literature. Maybe the problem is that, in this outing, it's taken a lowest-common-denominator approach in tackling a less illustrious canon -- one with which, thanks to media saturation, we're all already a bit too familiar.