The question that will likely plague Will Ferrell and Funny or Die's "filmitizations" The Spoils of Babylon and its noirish follow-up, The Spoils Before Dying, is "Why aren't these funnier"? The first miniseries didn't quite fall like a thud but like a soft feather landing on a bed of cotton; there simply wasn't a lot of demand for another goofy send-up of old Hollywood genre, once again led by Ferrell's pompous windbag author Eric Jonrosh. And while it's still not the laugh riot it should be, 'Dying' finds comic inspiration in the casting of Michael K. Williams.
Williams channels that undeniable intensity seen in HBO's The Wire and Boardwalk Empire into complete comedic farce. Watching the formerly badass Omar Little pinball through a series of deliberately awful gags spoofing the 1950s mystery craze is fascinating enough to overcome many of the series' continued shortcomings, but sadly not all of them. Williams plays jazz musician Rock Banyon who is accused of murder when his ex-girlfriend Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph) turns up dead. The two hard-headed detectives on the case want to bring him in ASAP but he earns a few days to clear his name.
What follows is a madcap trek film noir archetypes, such as Kristen Wiig as Banyon's drug-addled ex-lover Delores O'Dell, whose sole purpose seems to be to worry about her man until it's time for her to be endangered. Kate McKinnon steals the show as a boozing side piece who has banged so many jazz legends she speaks the lingo fluently. Also excellent is Martin Sheen as a closeted homosexual, Chris Parnell as the appropriately-named Bebop Jones, as well as Emily Ratajkowski in one of her first purely comedic roles. Talent isn't she show's problem; each individual performance is perfectly calibrated to Ferrell's winking sense of humor. If you saw Ferrell and Wiig's dramatic parody A Deadly Adoption then you know exactly the tone to expect, especially since it shares a screenwriter in Andrew Steele.
However, that film is also a fine example of what doesn't work. Ferrell bookends each episode once again as egotistical self-professed genius Eric Jonrosh. He chugs wine, berates his waitress, his fans, and the entire studio system that doesn't have the talent to properly adapt his work. Of course, his work is a steaming hot mess of heavy-handed product placement,cheap special effects, lousy editing, and amateurish action sequences designed out of toy models. But Jonrosh proves to be almost too much of a distraction, like he should be off in a separate series somewhere else. 'Spoils' is best when focused on ripping the noir genre, not when its attention is divided on Jonrosh's bloviating.
Granted, the point is that Jonrosh is his own worst enemy, especially when given the freedom to do whatever he wants. The Spoils Before Dying is a definite improvement over 'Babylon', but perhaps it could have been better if Ferrell wasn't free to indulge his every whim.
Rating: 3 out of 5