Blood, guts, wieners, butts

My story is sexy eyebrows.

My story is sexy eyebrows.

Do movies actually need stories? Can today’s movies ride on waves of raunchy jokes and nauseous frights all the way to the closing credits?

A case in point: Two recent DVD releases, Judd Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall and horror offering The Strangers, typify the recent Hollywood trend of lowest common denominator, easily digestible genre pictures (bromantic comedy and horror, respectively, in this instance). And this is fine: A laugh’s a laugh, a scare’s a scare.

Problem, however, is that the jokes and jolts can’t redeem the stories—or lack thereof.

Consider Marshall: Sarah (Kristen Bell) breaks up with Peter (Jason Segel, who also wrote the film) in the opening five minutes, then director Nicholas Stoller rides the sex gags: (a) Peter flexing his pecks in front of the mirror, (b) Peter’s peter and (c) Peter’s chode, taint, grundle or whatever you want to call it. One-hundred-and-seven minutes, a few good pearl-necklace jokes, sex wars and School of Apatow cameos later, and you’ve got a movie. Story? DOA.

Apatow’s lost his game. Marshall’s no Zero Effect. Or Superbad. It’s like the more hits he notches, the more he phones in these genre films that discount his tried-and-true storytelling. It may work for a few more paychecks, but screw that: Let Kevin Smith have the monopoly on bad dick-and-fart movies.

That said, Marshall’s script makes The Strangers look like Robert Towne’s Chinatown. In this fleeting, high-concept horror effort, a couple on the rocks become stranded at a remote countryside vacation home while a trio of masked sociopaths torment them. It’s like 28 Days Later meets Straw Dogs, but without—you guessed it—a story. The frights are decent—especially in the first act—and the craft’s respectable—particularly an eerie sequence with music from Joanna Newsom’s Ys album. But after the setup it’s quickly evident that first-time director Bryan Bertino doesn’t have a payoff—or a story.