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Published: Friday, 6/7/2013

Dear summer comedies, I miss you

We’re barely into the summer movie season and already there’s a discouraging trend. No laughs.

Oh, it’s not for lack of studio effort. We’ve suffered through the spent comedy misadventures of the Wolfpack in Hangover Part III. Today’s new comedy release, The Internship, likely will fall out of favor too, as negative word-of-mouth and tweets spread the news that this isn’t the comedy people are hoping for. And next week’s The End of the World, from early reports, is uneven with funny actors improvising their way through an only occasionally funny film.

Meanwhile, the big summer comedy blockbuster looks to be as elusive as a simple tax form for Tea Party leaders.

Is it the Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Heat, about a mismatched Boston police detective and uptight FBI special agent from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig? Throw in Back to the Future’s Biff (Thomas Wilson) as the screaming police captain and it’s 1985 all over again.

Or perhaps the summer savior will be the comedy sequel we couldn’t live without: Grown Ups 2, as Adam Sandler and stand-up pals return as high school friends facing a new and hopefully funny mid-life crisis.

For those wanting high-concept that borrows heavily from Men in Black, there’s R.I.P.D. The Rest in Peace Department, about a ghostly group of dead law enforcement officials who keep the world safe from bad spirits.

From the trailers at least, We’re the Millers, starring Jason Sudeikis as a small-time pot dealer who creates a fake family including a stripper as his wife (Jennifer Aniston), shows potential. And The World’s End about five friends who attempt to recreate their legendary pub crawl and must save the world is a must-see because of director/co-writer Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg who previously teamed up on the cult comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

But by then we’ll be at Aug. 23 and near the end of the summer film season. And as eager as I am for The World’s End, the British comedy certainly won’t be a major comedy smash in the United States. In fact, I suspect of these films only three will crack the top 20 for the summer box office.

Consider that just a decade ago, there were six comedies that finished in the top 20. In 1993, there were seven. And in 1983 there were six, though there were several memorable comedies that didn’t crack the top 20: Cheech and Chong’s Still Smokin’, Woody Allen’s Zelig, Steve Martin’s The Man with Two Brains, and Strange Brew, a feature film spin-off of the popular McKenzie brothers from SCTV.

Last year there were five comedies in the summer box-office top 20. (And also at No. 32, the worst film of the year, the Adam Sandler-Andy Samberg comedy That’s My Boy.) But it wasn’t until mid-July and the release of Ted that a truly breakout comedy emerged.

And since it always comes down to money, for reasons that most likely involve the growing power of the foreign box office and the fact that U.S. comedies don’t translate as well overseas as the universal language of action, special effects, and blowing stuff up, Hollywood isn’t cranking out funny movies like it used to during the summer. And when they do, it’s less about originality as it is marketability and stars.

There’s an undeniable art and skill to making good comedies. Hopefully, Hollywood will figure that out and get back to making us laugh.

Until then, as the summer of our discontent wears on, the joke is on us.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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