Adult Swim absurdity

For those unfamiliar with Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network’s nightly parade of irony-soaked Gen-X programming, the main characters of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” are Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad — a talking carton of French fries, a talking milkshake and, what else, a talking wad of meat, respectively. Normally their adventures are confined to the space of a 20-minute television segment, but in “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” the fast-food cohorts are allotted a full 87 minutes on the silver screen in which to unravel a sinister plot involving their fat neighbor Carl, some dimwitted aliens and a killer robot exercise machine.

To level the allegation of absurdity at such a movie is, of course, to miss the point by a wide margin. Absolutely nothing in “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” makes a modicum of sense — not the VCR in the back of Frylock’s head, not the hovering watermelon voiced by SNL’s Chris Kattan, and certainly not the idea of playing video games with a time-traveling Abraham Lincoln. But a deliberate lack of sense is pretty much the whole idea behind the project in the first place. And because of this, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is an exceedingly difficult movie to criticize.

Not that most members of the audience — those who aren’t regular viewers of the show, at least — won’t find themselves wondering what in God’s name they’re doing in the theater. No self-respecting human being can watch Meatwad fire kittens out of a cannon and treat the experience seriously. But unlike almost every other movie being produced and marketed by today’s movie industry, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” never aspires to be taken seriously. Not since the days of “Monty Python” (or maybe “Wet Hot American Summer”) has any film been so ridiculously self-aware.

What makes “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” radically different, however, is that it doesn’t even bear the least relation to anything that might be taken seriously. Most parodies, if they’re effective, need to borrow from the accepted forms and conventions of legitimate culture in order to make fun of them. Even when spoofing the most sacred norms, such parodies simultaneously affirm those norms by deeming them fit for appropriation. Satire usually finds its starting point in the sorts of things that people consider sacred.

“Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” by comparison, doesn’t really have a starting point at all. It doesn’t have an ending point, either. It simply eschews every conceivable convention of plot and narrative and character development without even pretending to acknowledge them. Things happen, and don’t happen, with such unrepentant absurdity that they might have sprung straight out of the dreams of some dislocated protagonist from a Camus novel.

The result is a truly bizarre movie — one without a trace of internal logic or consistency — but also a hilarious one. Many gags, even if they’re total non-sequiturs, manage to thrive on clever writing and preposterous character traits. When Master Shake flexes his nonexistent arms, he gazes at his yellow fingers and likens them admiringly to well-formed little hot dogs. Another character, a space robot, can repeatedly be seen humping metal objects. And Oglethorpe, a large yellowish polygon who speaks with a thick Bavarian accent despite being from Pluto, brags of his ability to “pound the brewskies” back in college.

What’s most confusing about “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” ultimately, is why it needed to be a movie at all. It’s not bad, but it does feel a bit unnecessary. After all, it doesn’t accomplish any more than it already does as a television show — which is precisely nothing — and the likelihood is none too strong that the movie’s audience will comprise anything but the TV show’s niche fans. Shame, since “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” deserves more viewers than it will certainly get. Nobody will cry if there aren’t more movies like this one in the future, but as its own little animal “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is a welcome break from the ordinary.

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