The Jakarta Post
The late great comic George Carlin once said you could joke about almost anything, even sensitive subjects like rape, but a good joke always depends on how you construct it.
Carlin also said that one of the most important elements of a joke is exaggeration.
The action comedy flick Comic 8: Casino Kings Part 1, a sequel to Comic 8, tries to do just that ' create humor using a high dose of exaggeration.
Before talking about the film's narrative, let's take a look at the casting choices, which alone show a high level of exaggeration.
For a start, the main characters are played by eight Indonesian comics, hence the name Comic 8. They are Arie Kriting, Babe Cabita, Bintang Timur, Ernest Prakasa, Fico Fachriza, Ge Pamungkas, Kemal Palevi and Mongol Stres.
The eight comics play secret agents who disguise themselves as stand up comedians to infiltrate a casino belonging to King (Sophia Latjuba).
Alongside these eight comics, the film, directed by Anggy Umbara, also features several cameos from dozens of other comics, such as Pandji Pragiwaksono, Arief Didu and Awwe.
To complement this ensemble of comics, the film features at least 50 legendary Indonesian movie stars from various genres and generations ' Barry Prima, Lydia Kandou, Yayan 'Mad Dog' Ruhian, Nikita Mirzani, Agung Hercules, Donny Alamsyah and Indro Warkop, among others.
These great number of talents are also backed by a production budget of at least Rp 20 billion (US$1.5 million) for costumes, sets and Hollywood-level special effects.
With the superstar lineup and huge budget, does Comic 8: Casino Kings Part 1 successfully deliver with its comedic narrative? The answer, unfortunately, is not really.
When Carlin talked about the importance of exaggeration, he provided an example by delivering a joke on rape. In his joke, he criticized the common belief that rape victims got what was coming to them by dressing sexy. Carlin managed to properly utilize social context in delivering his narrative ' making the joke not just funny, but also profound.
In Comic 8: Casino Kings Part 1, the comedic situations and jokes have almost no context at all: They are exaggerated simply for the sake of making exaggerations, and there is hardly any message or sense conveyed.
Anggi uses the same formula in this film as that of the prequel. He immediately introduces over-the-top lunacy from all the main characters and chaos from the get-go, while using back-and-forth plot twists to explain what in the world is happening.
The approach can be considered a daring yet successful story-telling technique, and the first Comic 8 deserves praise for displaying a very smart plot twist toward the end of the movie.
However, Anggi still repeats the same mistake with the joke narratives. They are not an improvement from the first film, if not even worse ' the jokes still heavily rely on excessive slapstick puns and parodies, especially on the Indonesian blockbuster action flick The Raid.
The only added value is probably that the film comes with advanced digital special effects, like an enormous crocodile chasing down the terrified comics in the deep jungle. But even these highlights are executed half-heartedly, making every single action comedy scene painful to watch.
In some scenes, it is evident Anggi and the comics have tried to be more 'political' and 'socially conscious' with the jokes, but even these attempts are lame.
In one of the scenes, for example, Ernest says, 'if you want to look for criminals, go to Senayan.' It is a satire intended to suggest that Indonesian legislators ' whose offices are in Senayan ' are criminals. But even so, the joke is just too tame and too politically correct to inject some much-needed sarcastic flavor into the comedy.
In other scenes, the movie, now in theaters, tries to talk about homophobia, but they only end up stereotyping gay men as too sexually driven and unable hold back their urge to touch other men.
The lack of character development of the main characters, and relating them with their real life personas, are also weaknesses that make the movie a disappointment.
The film's main characters play as themselves, using their real-world names and personas as stand-up comedians: something that should have given the film some spark, but for whatever reason, this is not the case.
Ernest, a comic of Chinese descent, popular for his Chinese-stereotype jokes, is mostly depicted as a super agent and his unique humor is rarely displayed. The only times his trademark persona is shown are in jokes about his tiny eyes; something that was done repeatedly in the first film.
In another case, Arie, a comic born in eastern Indonesian, whose performances are often filled with satire on the social gap between the western and eastern parts of Indonesia, acts merely as a slapstick joker and a servant to Ernest.
Despite the failures of character development, special praise needs to be given to Donny, who plays a crazy and very interesting character named Isa ' a masked assassin who likes to play violin during fights with his enemies.
Donny, who gained international acclaim from his role in The Raid, steps out of his comfort zone as an action movie star and displays a rare comedic side of himself in various scenes, despite the lack of lines he is given.
Perhaps, the most disappointing part of Comic 8: Casino Kings Part 1 is the fact that its trailer is far more exciting than the film itself and this fact, by itself, says a lot about the film's quality.
By watching the trailer, we expect to see great scenes from legends like Barry or a comedy debut of Yayan, who also acted alongside Donny in The Raid. However, as it turns out, they appear for mere seconds in this film.
The term 'Part 1' in the title raises hope that other cast members might get more screen time in the upcoming sequel, set to be released in February 2016. But all jokes aside, if the entrÃ©e is this bland, what makes you think the main course will be any better?
' Photos courtesy of Falcon Pictures
Comic 8: Casino Kings Part 1
Directed by Anggi Umbara
Cast: Arie Kriting, Babe Cabita, Bintang Timur, Ernest Prakasa, Fico Fachriza, Ge Pamungkas, Kemal Palevi, Mongol Stres, Sophia Latjuba, Pandji Pragiwaksono, Arief Didu and Awwe.