Dir: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer. US. 2007. 86mins.

A painful regurgitation of memorable moments from recent Hollywood blockbusters, the spoof film Epic Movie is almost entirely devoid of laughs. No matter your opinion of hits such as Pirates Of The Caribbean or The Chronicles Of Narnia, most will agree that even uninspired mega-money-makers have more cinematic style and creativity than writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's lazy satire possesses.

Not screened for preview reviews, Epic Movie easily took the top spot this weekend in the US, earning an estimated $19m. Without any major stars, this Fox release's strongest hook is the film-makers' track record with movie parodies. (They co-wrote the original Scary Movie as well as wrote and directed 2006's Date Movie, which grossed $49m stateside and another $36m internationally.)

Expect this new offering to follow Date Movie's box-office trajectory, although Epic Movie could have a stronger overseas showing simply because of the highly recognisable properties being mocked. That familiarity will also help the movie's ancillary chances in the near future while the references remain fresh in viewers' minds.

Four strangers (Kal Penn, Adam Campbell, Jayma Mays, and Faune Chambers), all orphans, are drawn together through mysterious means to battle The White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge), an evil queen who rules the fabled land of Gnarnia. Along the way, the orphans also learn magic from Harry Potter and swashbuckling from someone who resembles Pirates Of The Caribbean's Captain Jack Sparrow.

To say that Epic Movie is targeted at teenagers would be inaccurate. Rather, the film is offered up to them as a shiny trinket, the same way a person might shake a chew toy in front of a hyperactive dog to hold its attention. Toilet humour, scantily clad women, snippets of recent hit songs, and endless obvious references to pop-culture detritus (not just Hollywood blockbusters but also American television shows and tabloid curiosities such as Paris Hilton) make up the bulk of the film, as if to ensure that the young boys in the audience will always have some onscreen stimulus to keep them occupied.

Obviously, parody films aren't meant to be subtle satires of social mores and cultural touchstones. They're supposed to be rude and shameless, with jokes flying in every direction in the hope that maybe a quarter of them will land successfully.

But Epic Movie has none of the manic energy or comic flair of genre classics such as Airplane! For the most part, Friedberg and Seltzer seem content to check off a list of predetermined titles, tamely tweaking their most apparent quality, and then moving on to the next target. The quantity of good jokes takes a back seat to the quantity of references - apparently, a viewer's enjoyment is built around knowing what is being parodied as opposed to how it's being parodied.

As directors, the two men show little sense of pacing or rhythm, and their episodic, disjointed structure leaves no room for cleverly constructed sequences. The film's meagre production values (although sometimes intentionally meagre in pursuit of a laugh) only underline how threadbare the humour is.

Of the four leads, only Penn demonstrates much understanding of comic timing. As far as the supporting cast, the brief bright spots are provided by two television actors, Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond and Kevin McDonald (long removed from his great Kids In The Hall years). In their bit parts, they manage to elicit small chuckles without surrendering their dignity.

When Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker were inventing this genre with films such as Airplane!, they reveled in their sheer love of pop culture. The humor was often infantile and dirty, but the giddy joy of the riffing was undeniable - you sensed they were having a ball.

Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer may have made a good living riding the coat-tails of others, but there's no love or joy in their work. Watching the last 18 months of popular culture get reduced to 86 unfunny minutes is a numbing experience, but realizing that enough people will see Epic Movie to ensure that Friedberg and Seltzer get to make another one of these is truly depressing.

Production companies/backers
Regency Enterprises
New Regency Pictures

Worldwide distribution
Twentieth Century Fox

Paul Schiff

Executive producers
Arnon Milchan
Jason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer
Rodney Liber

Jason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer

Shawn Maurer

Peck Prior

Production design
William Elliott

Edward Shearmur

Main cast
Kal Penn
Adam Campbell
Jennifer Coolidge
Jayma Mays
Faune Chambers
Crispin Glover
Tony Cox
Fred Willard
Hector Jiminez
Darrell Hammond
Carmen Electra