Wanna know what I miss? Mid-budget studio comedies, the sort that filled the gaps in cinema’s annual calendar. The sort of lightweight, low-energy fare you and your friends could watch on a Saturday morning in the multiplex. Often they’d feature a Saturday Night Live alumnus on an initial foray into the movie industry proper, but just as equally not. Sometimes the films did well, but more often not, would underperform until it developed a second life on late-night cable, video rentals or even DVD sales. You know, stuff like So I Married An Axe Murderer.
There aren’t many cinema-released mid-budget comedy movies these days, and for good reason. Comedy is a more subjective artform than, say, action, and doesn’t travel as well around the world as, say, action. There’s no room these days for an unadulterated comedy movie with a budget in the low-double-digit millions given the economics. Hell, even something as flat and awful as Holmes and Watson cost $42 million, and couldn’t recoup that figure at the box office. I'm sure that film, too, will eventually catch on with some future generation of kids and stoners who delight in it as much as I have a soft spot for some of these early '90s comedies I was too young to see in cinemas.
Of course, these mid-budget comedies have been priced out of cinemas and straight into our homes, thanks to Netflix. Regardless of the quality, films like The Bubble and Don’t Look Up would, in a previous era, would have slotted into a multiplex roster quite easily. But Netflix’s desire to milk as much sitting-on-the-couch-time-as-possible from every piece of IP it owns is a big problem. Mostly because of its insistence of taking ideas that would have made brisk multiplex movies and dragged them out into time-wasting miniseries. There’s a reason that so many Netflix series have pacing problems as a fun 90-minute story is padded out to four, six, eight or twelve hours.
Which is a neat segue into talking about The Pentaverate, Netflix’s latest comedy featuring a depending-on-who-you-ask long overdue return by Mike Myers. On the surface, it’s a comedy about a secret society which has helped shape the course of human history, except they’re (apparently) nice. Myers plays eight characters, given his endless love of prosthetics and desire to be remembered as his generations’ Peter Sellers. He’s joined by Lydia West, Keegan-Michael Key, Debi Mazar, Ryn Alleyne, Neil Mullarchy, Jenifer Saunders and Ken Jeong. And there’s plenty of A-list talent behind the camera too, with Orbital on soundtrack duties and Tim Kirkby directing.
Our star is Ken Scarborough, a retirement-age Toronto-based local TV journalist who is destined to be retired. On the quest for a big story to save his career, he visits the Canadian Conspiracy Convention (CanConCon) and discovers The Pentaverate. From there, his journey is to infiltrate the organization and, with the help of his cameraperson Reilly, try to expose it. Except, of course, Scarborough is walking in on a conspiracy hatched by one of the Pentaverate’s own for reasons that are fairly obvious as soon as you see who’s running the thing.
Myers is a child of the ‘70s, but his British expat parents imbued in him a love of all things British and ‘60s. Much of The Pentaverate is lifted wholesale from legendary ‘60s series The Prisoner and fans of that show will get a kick out of spotting what’s been stolen. Myers’ love for the show even extends to stealing the best joke from the series, albeit the Canadian manages to blow the punchline here. Hell, even the shadowy cabal’s helicopters are the same brand as what was used to fly people in and out of the Village.
(An aside: Are we living in the age of celebrities producing big-budget fanfiction? After all, this The Prisoner riff comes only a few years after Seth MacFarlane was able to launch his own Star Trek series.)
Unfortunately, despite the wealth of talent here, The Pentaverate falls a little flat because it’s clearly in the wrong format. There’s no proof, far as I can see, that the film was originally a screenplay and then expanded out to a TV-friendly three hours, but it sure feels that way. You can feel the narrative stretching, as characters wait around for their plot thread to start back up. Do we need multiple sequences of people riding a “hyperloop” around pulling g-force faces? No, but you can imagine Reed Hastings behind the camera, tapping his watch and insisting the runtime gets as close to three hours as possible.
This stretching also means that every joke in the show’s arsenal gets repeated a little too many times. You know that friend who really got into Austin Powers and just kept shouting lines from the film into your face? Well, buckle in for plenty of jokes about how Canadians are nice, dicks are funny, no, Canadians are really nice, and dicks are really, really funny. Oh and sex jokes, the sort that your pre-teen nephew likes to make, you’ll get some of those, too. The neater, smarter touches, like the fourth-wall breaking Netflix spokesperson who goes back and edits some sequences to “remove” some of the “profanity” also grow tiresome with repetition.
Unfortunately, while the show can be funny, and it’s a delight to see Myers returning to his roots somewhat, the show drags. I’m sure it would have been a breezy, 89-minute movie that would have enabled viewers to forgive its faults. It would be an interesting experiment to hand this over to a talented editor and see if they couldn’t trim this down to something a lot pacier. Until then, however, it’s for Myers and Prisoner diehards only, at least until a whole new generation of kids are old enough to find it in the infinite scroll in twenty years.