The deities of Mount Olympus descend to the streets of New York City, where they wreak havoc on mortals and much worse on the audience, in Marc Turtletaub’s myth-inspired comedy, Gods Behaving Badly. Rounding up a cast of stars — many of whom had their heyday two decades ago — this outdated, unfunny satire feels like an extended SNL sketch from the early ‘90’s, and one that probably would have been tossed into the waste basket. Some bankable names and a mildly clever idea should send these immortals straight to VOD, with a small courtesy release in select cities.
Based on the book by Marie Phillips, the concept is simple: The Greek gods are alive and well, and currently living in a Manhattan townhouse, where they engage in endless petty squabbles and use their powers to thwart each other’s plans.
At the center of the story — adapted by Turtletaub and Josh Goldfaden — is the rivalry pitting Aphrodite (Sharon Stone) against her brother Apollo (Oliver Platt), who now hosts a public access TV show, where he reads people’s minds in exchange for scattered applause. Trying to contain their stupidity is responsible sis Artemis (Edie Falco), a goddess of chastity determined to stop her siblings’ sexcapades, when she’s not busy prancing her hunting dogs around Central Park (in a gag, like many, that perhaps will amuse fans of classic mythology — “perhaps” being the key word here).
When Aphrodite convinces her son Eros (Gideon Glick) to cast a spell on Apollo, hoping he’ll fall in love with a woman who won’t love him back, a would-be average couple — the bookworm Kate (Alicia Silverstone) and dweeb Neil (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) — gets caught in the shuffle. Faster than you can say Herodotus, Apollo is head over heels for Kate, who’s soon banished to the underworld, prompting the angry god to shut off the sun and bring chaos to the Big Apple.
If this already sounds tiresome, then you haven’t yet seen John Turturro overdoing it as Hades the media mogul, Nelsan Ellis (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) playing Dionysus, who runs a disco where people dance around with glow sticks (apparently the filmmakers’ idea of decadence), and Rosie Perez sporting a ridiculous low-cut toga in her portrayal of Persephone. Or else there’s Silverstone, riding the subway through Hell and exclaiming: “The Hades comedy hour is starting and I’m gonna miss it!” — one of several zingers that hits the floor with a colossal thud.
Maybe it’s impossible to transform ancient texts into laughs, but Woody Allen did a decent job of it in Mighty Aphrodite, while Seth Rogen and friends managed to mine humor out of the New Testament in This Is the End. Yet Turtletaub — who co-founded the production company behind the comic smash Little Miss Sunshine — dishes out material that feels hopelessly dated, resorting to lots of bland, family-friendly jokes, whereas a little more transgression might have perhaps given his film an edge.
In the least, the production values are fairly polished, with vet DP Tak Fujimoto (The Silence of the Lambs) providing an array of colorful visuals, and editors Joe Landauer and Alan Heim keeping the action hemmed in at a respectable 90 minutes.
And while the cast is weighed down by all the whack one-liners and kooky costumes, they seem to be having a good time of it, especially Platt as the horn dog Apollo and Christopher Walken as a depressed and worn-out Zeus, who bookends the story with a conclusion spoken like a true New Yawka: “We really need to cut down on the shenanigans.” God willing.
Venue: Rome Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production companies: Big Beach
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Sharon Stone, Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Oliver Platt, Rosie Perez
Director: Marc Turtletaub
Screenwriters: Josh Goldfaden, Marc Turtletaub, based on the book by Marie Phillips
Producers: Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf
Director of photography: Tak Fujimoto
Production designer: Kalina Ivanov
Costume designer: Amela Baksic
Music: Christopher Young
Editors: Joe Landauer, Alan Heim
Sales agent: Cinetic
No rating, 90 minutes