Hey, I’m walkin’ here!
The Smurfs trailer offers a lot of reasons to hate this Shrek-like new abomination. We’ve got Katy Perry as Smurfette chirping, “I kissed a smurf and I liked it?” We’ve got Neil Patrick Harris endlessly repeating the movie’s single joke—that “smurf” can mean anything—as if he’s stuck in some hellish time loop. We’ve got voice acting genius Hank Azaria being whacked in the face and hit by a bus.
But the part I despise the most is Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez) referencing Midnight Cowboy in the middle of a busy New York street. I despise this worthless gag for several reasons: first of all, it’s incredibly lazy writing. Not only is it an extremely famous movie quote, but it’s one that’s become clichéd through overuse. It’s not even a knowing allusion anymore; now, it’s just the screenwriters saying, “This movie is set in New York, and we are familiar with pop culture.”
If this is even intended as an allusion, then it’s one of those half-assed over-the-kids’-heads jokes meant to convince parents that The Smurfs has something to offer them, too—that it won’t just be two hours of NPH and Hank Azaria being hit in the face. But (with any luck) this is a self-defeating proposition, because any adult who’s savvy about Dustin Hoffman playing Ratso Rizzo in a four-decade-old, X-rated movie will also know enough to stay the hell away from The Smurfs.
This trailer bespeaks a movie so unimaginative and so formulaic that it almost smacks of self-parody. The Smurfs, please get the smurf away from me, and stay there.
I think you are filth! I think you are scum! You are a degenerate!
Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) has a right to be pissed off. Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), the maladjusted title character of The Graduate (1967), has ruined his marriage and now has his eyes on Elaine, his daughter. Yet when Mr. Robinson confronts Ben about all of this, he doesn’t come off as an outraged man rightfully defending his home and family. He comes off as a clown. He’s the buffoonish, cigar-clenching symbol of an uncool generation that’s had its chance to rule the world; now it’s 1967, and all bets are off. “Is it something I’ve said that’s caused this contempt,” he asks, “or is it just things I stand for that you despise?”
This showdown could’ve easily been played for straight drama, with Mr. Robinson as our tragic hero. In the hands of director Mike Nichols (as well as screenwriters Buck Henry and Calder Willingham), it’s a masterpiece of awkward comedy, as Mr. Robinson overreacts to Ben’s every gesture, misinterprets his every olive branch, and plays into every stereotype about gruff, overprotective fathers. During their argument, Ben tactlessly compares sex with Mrs. Robinson to “shaking hands”; as Mr. Robinson’s leaving, he haltingly barks at Ben, “You’ll pardon me if I don’t shake hands with you.” Every one of Mr. Robinson’s lines drips with cluelessness and seething rage, an unfortunate but hilarious combination.
This climaxes with his last few words to Ben, as transcribed above. To be honest, these insults are pretty accurate: Ben’s behavior throughout the film has been filthy, scummy, and degenerate; he doesn’t seem to have a moral compass or any sense of his effect on other people. But with Dustin Hoffman just standing innocuously in his apartment, it’s hard to take these slurs seriously. He’s completely justified, sure, but his anger and volume feel over-the-top. It’s a brilliant scene, if morally shifty, aligning us even further with Ben’s psychosis through the cartoonish, hysterical counterexample of Mr. Robinson. Nichols’ direction and Hamilton’s unforgettable performance mesh for a sly piece of comic trickery.