One of the byproducts — or curses, perhaps — of Netflix and its gazillion-dollar budget for original content is that anything and, apparently, everything will be turned into a feature film some day. The latest effort is Between Two Ferns: The Movie, an 80-minute adaptation of Zach Galifinakis’s series of poorly informed celebrity interviews that the comedian produced has produced sporadically for Funny or Die since 2008.
Is this a movie anyone was crying out for? Probably not. Why is it happening? Well, the answer may lie in how much you’re willing to let algorithmic streaming media exploit memories of the very recent past.
Structurally, Between Two Ferns: The Movie isn’t terribly different from 2006’s Borat. Like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh clown, Galifinakis and his director and writing partner Scott Aukerman have retconned the titular sketch into a striving low-rent public access show that stumbles upon a full production budget. Set on a cross-country mission to Los Angeles by Funny or Die impresario Will Ferrell — playing a bolo-tie-wearing, cocaine-addled version of himself — it’s up to Galifinakis and his crew (Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao) to interview enough famous friends and save the day.
The result is a road trip dotted with dozens of cameos sitting for snippets of episodes of the Between Two Ferns that never really existed during the series’ original run. The roster of who shows up for even a minute makes it one of the best-cast “movies” of all time, and none of the bits are particularly bad on their own. Little chats with the likes of Keanu Reeves, Tiffany Haddish, David Letterman, or Tessa Thompson all contain at least one or two barbs or reactions big enough to pull a chuckle out of the viewer.
But stretched to 80 minutes, Galifinakis’s tricks — which will start out as obvious to anyone who’s ever watched his comedy projects — become dull. The seventh mispronounced name (Maybe Peter Dinklage?) isn’t nearly as funny as the first or second. The host’s posturing as a simpleton who can’t mask contempt for his guests is sharper earlier on, but dulled down by the time Paul Rudd is the fifth or sixth performer accused of needing an acting coach.
Still, there are enough gut laughs to remind why Between Two Ferns was a short-form hoot back at the start of this decade that helped launch Galifinakis’s career as a master of smart and uncomfortable comedy. Between Two Ferns: The Movie might not be terrible background chatter for a small house party — glance at the TV and you may see Galifinakis clumsily insulting, say, Benedict Cumberbatch or Brie Larson — but it’s far less pleasurable than opening your laptop on a weekend morning and cackling to a six-minute sketch.