National Lampoon's The Legend of Awesomest Maximus [Blu-Ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (9th April 2012).
The Film

Some guys are awesomer.

So says the tagline on the cover of “The Legend of Awesomest Maximus”, and to that I’ll add: some movies are awfuler…er. “Awesomest Maximus” is f**king awful, plain and simple. It’s easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. And I say that having sat through—and even publishing a review of—“Freerunner” (2011), which was an amateurish movie if there ever was one; an icon of incompetence that was patently horrible in basically every way. So, hold onto your butts, because, in some ways, “Awesomest Maximus” is worse. It’s true. In fact, in most ways it’s worse, which I didn’t think I’d be writing about another movie anytime soon. “Awesomest” is a terrible, terrible film—in most part a needless parody of “300” (2006), with a splash of spoof shot in the direction of “Troy” (2004), director Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000), Mad Mel Gibson’s proto-“Gladiator”, “Braveheart” (1994) and, dare I say, of all things, the totally terrible and crazy “Caligula” (1979). Certainly, the modern sword-n-sandal-and-musclebound-shirtless-warriors genre is worthy of attack. But not an attack as blunt and boneheaded as the one put forth by a comedic force as base as National Lampoon.

Awesomest Maximus (Will Sasso, the guy from Fox’s “SNL” (1975-Present) knock-off, “MADtv” (1995–2009), most “famous” for playing Kenny Rogers on that sketch show as, for some reason, a mildly retarded person) is slovenly, stupid, and surprisingly supple in a man-boobish way. He’s also, somehow, the top General in the Trojan army. He’s married to Hottessa (Kristanna Loken), the power-hungry and probably bisexual daughter of King Looney (Rip Torn). Looney is coming to the end of his reign, looking to hand his crown to someone more worthy than his overly effeminate son Orlando (Gary Lundy). Awesomest might just be the man for the job, but he has to prove himself first, which he does by bringing Orlando back from “gay Greece” on orders from the king. Unfortunately for all, when he returns, Orlando hooks up with Princess Ellen (Sophie Monk), convincing her to act as his so-called “beard” in hopes that Looney will think his son is straight and crown him king. One problem: Ellen belongs to the God-King of Greece named Erotic (Khary Payton), a, closeted but clearly homosexual, villain dressed in bondage gear, who, half the time, sounds like he’s doing a bad Rosie Perez impersonation.

Infuriated by Ellen’s betrayal, Erotic sends his army—lead by his best fighter, Testiclees (Ian Ziering), an immortal warrior who also once had an incestuous fling with his mother, Milfia (Tiffany Claus)—to Looney’s lands, in one scene housed in a “Trojan horse” shaped like a giant cock (seriously). Awesomest and his army of 300 men nearly defeat Erotic in battle because the vain Testiclees fails to show up to the fight. But, in a bit of fitting stupidity, the General—who is almost universally hated by his soldiers, including contemptuous Quantas (Kevin Linehan), his second in command, and a black midget amongst the ranks named Minoritees (Tony Cox)—is pushed off a cliff by his own men and dies before he can claim victory. Or, so the Trojan’s and Erotic, quite happily, believe. In reality, Maximus survives and washes up on a distant shore and is enslaved by Approximo (Eddie Pepitone). He’s made to fight to the death in a gladiatorial showdown with other slaves like Jamal (Deon Richmond), whom he befriends. Eventually, Awesomest realizes his awesome potential… or something… and then the movie just sort of… ends.

Throw actual mythology out the window. Logic too. Nothing about “Awesomest Maximus” is the least bit serious, but that’s not the problem really. I have no problem with silliness. The problem here is that “Awesomest Maximus” is just cripplingly stupid. The character seems like he might have been kicked in the head a few too many times. Or dropped as a baby even. And the filmmakers bringing the character’s story to screen don’t seem much brighter. The script, by Jason Burinescu, is lazily written, full of sophomoric jokes and plotted with obvious, unfunny, attempts at pointless parody, with little consequence to structure, coherency, or anything. Humor is, as always, extremely subjective. And I’m sure there’s an audience that will lap up the slop that is “Maximus”. But, eh, I think this might be the least funny comedy I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through in some time. At times it’s even offensive—relying on homophobic, sexist, or just, and perhaps most grossly, generally misguided attempts at humor, which I suppose might fly in some frat houses but are actually quite idiotic in an arena that doesn’t demand constant drunkenness.

Then again, why did I expect anything other than ridiculous fraternity follies? “Awesomest” is the latest from National Lampoon, and they haven’t made anything good since… the eighties, really. And, actually, “Animal House” (1978) and the first three Chevy Chase “Vacation” (1983-1989) movies are anomalies, so scratch that. Those four films are aberrations in the cinematic catalog of National Lampoon. They’re good-ish, not because of the “National Lampoon presents…” preceding the title, but because John Landis and Harold Ramis used to make good movies.

Sadly, director Jeff “Revenge of the Nerds” Kanew once made a good movie or two too. “Awesomest” isn’t his finest hour, to say the least. With a minuscule budget, Kanew has mounted a poor parody of much better, or at least better-financed, films. His attempts at aping visual cues and the slick stylization of the likes of “Gladiator”, “300” and “Troy” come off poorly because of the project’s low-budget digital-video origins, and so, much of the film comes away looking no better than your garden variety Youtube. Kanew’s use of green-screen is much more inept than Zach Snyder’s, and the CG to fill in the budgetary gaps is obviously low rent, again little better than what an amateur could do in their bedroom with a Mac Pro and the appropriate software. Is that part of the joke? (IMDB does list another tagline as “Epic? Fail? You decide.”) If it is all intentionally bad, that still isn’t funny.

The jokes are tired. The whole premise is lame. It looks terrible, is beyond poorly acted, and most of the gags are random, crude and eye-rollingly awful. At the end of the day, you have to wonder why “Awesomest” was even made. It’s certainly not relevant. The “300” parody has been done to death—and rarely well; see “Meet the Spartans” (2008). The other movies it mocks are even older, and said mocking is not clever, nor well done in any way.

I’d say that “The Legend of Awesomest Maximus” is a black mark on the résumé of everyone involved. But, aside from Rip Torn—who, here, is awkwardly shown having fellatio performed on him at least once during the film (for no reason other than, I assume, to make some obscure reference to Bob Guccione’s pornographic inserts shoved into “Caligula”; on second thought, no, that’s too clever; the knob-gobbling is just another unfortunate and unfunny vulgarity thrown in, ‘cause, why not?)—does anyone in the cast or crew actually have a reputation to tarnish? And the good things people associate with Torn, much like National Lampoon, really are the exceptions of his career. Sure he was nominated for an academy award…but that was in the eighties. “Awesomest” is absolutely, abominably, awful, but it’s still not the absolute worst thing in ol’ Zed’s collective body of work. After all, he was in “Freddy Got Fingered” (2001).

Video

IMDB incorrectly lists the film negative format as 35mm. Wrong. “The Legend of Awesomest Maximus” is digital through-and-through: a fact confirmed by the “Shot on RED” logo in the end credits. Even if the logo weren’t there, you’d still be able to peg “Maximus” as a digital byproduct. It has that grainless, lifeless, dull-but-clean sheen. In the right hands, RED One (and RED MX and EPIC) footage looks amazing. In the wrong hands… well, it looks sort of like “Awesomest” does.

Mostly, the 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded presentation is mediocre. Detail is average, with some scenes showcasing strong clarity and satisfying sharpness, but many other scenes look, if not exactly indistinct, decidedly less impressive, like a really good up-converted DVD. The increased resolution of Blu-ray doesn’t do the cheap visual effects any favors, and the scenes that employ green screen look exceptionally false. Some of the CG appears to suffer from faint aliasing and banding too, probably from the inferior source materials. Generally speaking, whites run hot but contrast is weak, with an inconsistent black level and limited depth.

Colors are… all over the place, sometimes intentionally, but oft-times because of what I can only assume was incompetence. Skin tones can occasionally appear a little tanned as a result of the warming filter applied to a scene, but elsewhere faces take on purplish, greenish and bluish, or even overly pasty white, tones. Sometimes this happens within the same scene, varying from shot to shot. Noise is an issue late in the film, especially during Sasso and Loken’s sordid sex scene, with the screen infrequently awash with artifacts and mosquito noise.

In an attempt to further parody Snyder and Scott’s visual styles for their respective films, “Awesomest” features both excessive “speed ramping” and, during the gladiator scenes, high-frame-rate photography, neither of which translate well through a digital lens. The ramping features noticeably “smeary” slow motion, while, inversely, the high frame rate stuff looks choppy, almost jerky, in motion.

It’s hard to say where the faults inherent to the original photography end and the flaws of the encoding begin, so I’ll just leave it at this: “Awesomest” is an exceedingly underwhelming Blu-ray, filled with intermittent visual flaws and odd anomalies. Stylistically and technically, it can be pretty ugly, but it’s not totally terrible. It’s just, at best, incredibly mediocre.

Audio

Two words: Dolby, Digital. Yep, the “Awesomest” soundtrack is so awesome it isn’t even lossless. Instead, Image offers up a bog-standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, encoded at 384 kbps. That’s squarely within DVD specs, for those who care. (Actually, a little worse than). The track is a spartan affair—weak, and filled, mostly, by dialogue and mildly amusing-but-eventually-irritating faux-Samuel L. Jackson narration. Effects, the generic score and most everything else makes no mark. I'd praise the occasionally effective low-end bass, but it seems a bit too booming. The mix does sound a little thin in spots, and it might have been beefed up by a DTS-HD MA encode… but, honestly, I’m not sure lossless would improve the quality in any considerable way. Then again, I’m not going to lose sleep over the lossy nature of the disc. I just don't care enough. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

Extras

Thank the Gods! Aside from a theatrical trailer (1080p, 2 minutes 33 seconds) there are no extras on the disc. A pre-menu bonus trailer for some atrociously awful thing called “Division III: Football’s Finest” (1080p, 2 minutes 20 seconds)—a sports comedy starring Andy Dick—looks to easily contend with “Maximus” for the title of “Most Offensive Crime Against Cinema, Humanity and Everything”.

Packaging

“The Legend of Awesomest Maximus” sleazes it’s way onto Blu-ray, though no one asked for it, in a simple single-layered BD-25, eco-cased package from Image Entertainment.

Overall

“The Legend of Awesomest Maximus” is not awesome. It’s a very bad, very stupid movie. Painfully unfunny and occasionally offensive, I can’t imagine this will find much play outside of the lowliest of frat houses. The Blu-ray from Image, well… one might wonder, “this is a Blu-ray?” The disc has exceptionally underwhelming video and a near loser of a lossy audio track. Luckily, there are no extras to further waste your time. Skip it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Film: F Video: C- Audio: C- Extras: F Overall: F