There are saving graces scattered throughout Zach Galifianakis’s featherweight extension of his amateur talkshow Between Two Ferns, a ramshackle full-length excuse to watch him be mean to squirming in-on-the-joke A-listers. But perhaps the film’s overwhelming ace is an overarching awareness of just how pointless it really is, made with the same disposability with which it should be consumed.
Tasked with transporting Funny Or Die’s often hysterically funny webseries into a Netflix movie, writer-director and Two Ferns co-creator Scott Aukerman has aimed low and mostly, kind of, succeeded. The plot, and it’s excessively generous of me to call it that, sees Galifianakis in hot water after almost drowning guest Matthew McConaughey in cold water during an on-set accident which also destroys the show’s lo-fi set. His hateful boss Will Ferrell soon arrives with an intimidating proposal: to save himself he must film 10 new episodes in two weeks while on the road, ending up in LA to deliver the tapes.
What follows is as scrappy as one would expect, a thinly drawn road trip caper sandwiching all-too-brief clips of celebrities deflecting cruel verbal jabs. It’s predictably in these moments that the film proves funniest with a long list of stars lining up for some wonderfully unrestrained attacks. Highlights include an assault on Benedict Cumberbatch’s unusual looks (“the type of face that masturbates all day wearing a helmet”), Jon Hamm’s comedy Tag (“one of the most iconic pieces of mediocrity ever created”), Paul Rudd’s career (“Which do you prefer: being in Marvel movies or being in stuff that nobody’s ever heard of?”) and Matthew McConaughey’s recent career choices (“All right, all right, all right … sorry I was just reading the box office returns for your last three movies”). As evidenced by his utter lack of vanity throughout his work to date, Galifianakis is also the subject of numerous putdowns (a colleague refers to him as an “absolute piece of shit garbage rat loser” while Ferrell calls him “so dumb and so fat”).
Given the current sorry state of feature-length comedy, there are enough laughs here to automatically make it funnier than most of its bigger, and more ambitious, big-screen counterparts. But as hilarious as it might be when it’s focused on ridiculing the rich and famous, it’s equally forgettable when trained on its barebones narrative. There are brief moments of inspired silliness outside of the interview format, like Orange is the New Black’s Lauren Lapkus airing her confusion over what a chicken strip is or a surprise cameo from Chrissy Teigen who reveals that her origins story is essentially the plot of The Box, but it’s mostly filler. There’s also just too much of it in comparison to the talkshow segments, which are all frustratingly short.
Movies based on TV shows are often criticised for feeling like a stitched together bumper edition of episodes but in this instance, I’d have been happy for that to be the case, sandwiched between two ferns rather than aimlessly out on the road.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now available on Netflix