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What a joke

Exploding heads: OK; Scatological humor: Not OK

By Todd Leopold
CNN

poster.aristocrats.jpg
"The Aristocrats" features numerous hilarious tellings of a scatological joke.

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Eye on Entertainment
Jamie Foxx
Eudora Welty

(CNN) -- Producer walks into a screening room. Projectionist cues up film: a scene with a crazed gunman boarding a city bus.

Gunman threatens passengers, then shoots driver. Camera cuts away.

Producer is furious. He wonders why there's no image of the driver's brains splattering against the windshield.

"Where's the money shot?" he demands.

Cue laugh track!

OK, not really. In that scene from the 1991 Lawrence Kasdan movie "Grand Canyon," Steve Martin -- playing a producer of violent action movies -- wasn't joking.

Most people have no problem with violent "money shots." Whether they're cartoonish, as in some Paul Verhoeven films, or sickeningly real, as in "Saving Private Ryan," they run every day at your local neighborhood theater chain.

But words? Now, those can be trouble.

On Friday, "The Aristocrats" premieres in limited release in New York and Los Angeles. The low-budget independent film, which features 100 comedians telling "the world's dirtiest joke," is billed with the tagline, "No nudity. No violence. Unspeakable obscenity."

Apparently it's that last part that has disturbed some people, perhaps including a few at AMC Theaters, one of the largest theater chains in the country. AMC won't be showing "The Aristocrats" on any of its 3,500 screens.

An AMC spokesperson has noted that not showing the film is a business decision. "The Aristocrats" is unrated, which means that the language is well past the level of polite conversation. "They thought it would have limited audience appeal," the spokesperson said of AMC's corporate review committee.

"Aristocrats" co-producer Penn Jillette was philosophical about the rejection.

"At least it's showing that words have power," he told the Chicago Tribune.

"The Aristocrats" will show in other theater chains, including those of AMC's primary rival, Regal.

Still, if Jillette wants the film to do guaranteed blockbuster business, maybe he should have thrown in an exploding head or two. Anything for a laugh.

Eye on Entertainment looks for the humor.

Eye-opener

"The Aristocrats" concerns an old joke: Guy walks into a talent agent's office and says he's got a great family act. At which point he starts describing the family performing the most awful, vulgar, disgusting activities that can be dreamed up.

The agent is shocked. "That's horrible!" he exclaims. "What do you call it?"

"The Aristocrats," the visitor says.

The point isn't the punch line; it's the telling. In the film, Jillette and director Paul Provenza rounded up 100 comedians, including Robin Williams, George Carlin, Paul Reiser, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Saget, to give their versions. (Saget has earned some of the biggest laughs merely by being Bob Saget -- as in the wholesome "America's Funniest Home Videos"/"Full House" Bob Saget -- and delivering a nasty, foul-mouthed version with relish.)

"The Aristocrats" isn't for everybody, obviously. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, though giving the movie a B+, notes that "funny as it is, [it] becomes exhausting and a bit depressing."

However, Time's Richard Corliss called it "a master class in comedy," and The Associated Press' David Germain, in giving it 3 1/2 stars, said it was "an insightful, incisive treatise on why we laugh."

"The Aristocrats" opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, and in more cities starting August 12.

On screen

  • Diane Lane can't find a date. Neither can John Cusack. If you believe that, you'll love "Must Love Dogs," a romantic comedy that opens Friday.
  • Kurt Russell continues his long relationship with Disney as the superhero father of a teen in "Sky High," about a high school for budding superheroes. I wonder if Dexter Riley would have made it in the old days. Opens Friday.
  • A fighter jet with a mind of its own gets away from the military, and Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx have to pursue it in "Stealth." Foxx must have started this film before winning the Oscar for "Ray." Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • D.L. Hughley hosts "Weekends at the DL," a hip late-night show that gets its premiere at 11 p.m. Friday on Comedy Central.
  • A new TNT series follows around an elite Los Angeles Police Department squad charged with bringing in the most "Wanted." Gary Cole stars, having moved up from his activities on "Midnight Caller." Bill Lumbergh would be proud, though he'd probably want him to work Sunday -- which, coincidentally, is when the show airs. 10 p.m. Sunday, TNT. (TNT, like CNN, is a division of Time Warner.)
  • Sound waves

  • Alice Cooper's new record, "Dirty Diamonds" (New West), comes out Tuesday.
  • The Animal Liberation Orchestra's new album, "Fly Between Falls" (Lagmusic), comes out Monday.
  • Paging readers

  • "Stargazer" (Da Capo), a history of the telescope by Fred Watson, comes out Monday.
  • Suzanne Marrs offers a comprehensive look at one of the South's most notable authors in "Eudora Welty: A Biography" (Harcourt). The book comes out Monday.
  • On the surface, the most interesting thing about "The Testing of Luther Albright" (4th Estate) is the name of the author: MacKenzie Bezos, as in the wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff. But Ms. Bezos has her own bona fides, including praise from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "The Complete Thin Man Collection" (Warner Home Video) featuring the fine first two films about Nick and Nora Charles (and the lesser four that followed), comes out Tuesday.
  • Two John Wayne films get the top-notch DVD treatment after being tied up for years in litigation: 1953's "Island in the Sky" and 1954's "The High and the Mighty" (both Paramount Home Video). The films come out Tuesday.
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