What a joke
Exploding heads: OK; Scatological humor: Not OK
By Todd Leopold
"The Aristocrats" features numerous hilarious tellings of a scatological joke.
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(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.
"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.
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