Billion Dollar Baby

 
When Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim announced that they’d be releasing a feature film, cult fans of the duo’s darkly genius Adult Swim sketch show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job” reacted with both excitement and uncertainty. The venture seemed destined for one of two unappealing outcomes: It would either a) elongate the show’s 15-minute amalgam of fake PSAs, zero-budget commercials and absurdist pop-culture pastiche into an exhaustive feature length, or b) sift out its stranger, more refreshingly transgressive elements in the name of mainstream viability.

During the opening minutes of “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” — a commercial for the hazardous “Schlaaang Super Seat,” a faux-movie starring a Johnny Depp impersonator, Jeff Goldblum as someone named Chef Goldblum — the former seems the case. But, as we’re swept into the film’s surprisingly cohesive plot, “Billion Dollar Movie” assuredly proves itself a new comedic experience all its own. 

The film follows two Hollywood wonderkids (Tim and Eric) who — after blowing their billion-dollar budget on a three-minute flop — hide from their vengeance-seeking financier Tommy Schlaaang (a terrifying Robert Loggia) while managing a failing mall in an effort to raise back the money. 

What’s immediately striking about “Billion Dollar Movie” is just how unrelentingly frightening it is. Similar to their recent non-“Awesome Show” outing, HBO’s “The Terrys” — the film ups the ante in terms of nightmare surrealism. In fact, much of “Billion Dollar Movie” draws directly from David Lynch: unnerving performances from non-actors and Lifetime-style cliches tinged with surreal horror. “Twin Peaks” star Ray Wise even drops in for a perfectly disturbing cameo as the mall’s spokesman for a highly unsanitary new-age cult, while John C. Reilly’s sickly, feral mall guide Taquito could simultaneously haunt the recesses of any classic horror flick and land Reilly an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. 

Though, as with the show, “Billion Dollar Movie”’s terror is perfectly counterbalanced by its countless moments of unorthodox hilarity. Zach Galifianikis is unsurprisingly outrageous as the duo’s pig-tailed spiritual guide, Jim Joe Kelly, and elsewhere the film revels in incredibly deadpan contemporary satire that might leave some of the older audience members wondering what the few bearded nerds in the front row are laughing about. 

That isn’t to say that each bit works. Often, the gross-out gags (spoiler: genital piercing) seem more unnecessary than shocking or funny. And Will Ferrell’s role as the “Top Gun”-obsessed mall manager is disappointingly flat. But these are a few brief moments in the shuffle of an entertaining, genre-defying piece of filmmaking.

To say “Billion Dollar Movie” is not for everyone seems like a vast understatement — as is the case with most any artists who possess something as new and defiantly un-mainstream as Tim and Eric. And with both Heidecker and Wareheim beginning to test the waters of a wider audience (Heidecker will star alongside LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy in this year’s “The Comedy”), nothing could be more promising. (B) 

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