Comedy is magic. It must be. There’s no other reason why some movies are funny and others aren’t. A well-made drama or a well-made action movie can work, but even if a comedy is well-made, well-acted and well-filmed, it has to be funny. And no matter how carefully you load the deck with talented writers and performers, if it doesn’t click, it doesn’t click.
Case in point is “Coffee Town,” the first movie from online comedy titans CollegeHumor. If I told you that a movie was directed by one of the writers of “Arrested Development” and starred a cast member from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a cast member from “Eastbound and Down” and a cast member of “Parks & Recreation,” with cast members from “Veep,” “The New Girl” and “Comedy Bang Bang” in supporting roles, you’d think that movie would be surefire.
And yet “Coffee Town” is kind of a disaster, just gaspingly unfunny for long stretches. You can see the comic actors flex their muscles, delivering zingers and bad-taste gags that probably looked great on paper. And . . . crickets.
The conceit of the film attempts to update the workplace comedy for the downsized generation. Work-at-homer Glenn Howerton likes to take his laptop to the Coffee Town, a third-tier coffee shop franchise in the local strip mall. He doesn’t get much work done, between hanging out with pals Steve Little and Ben Schwartz, ogling fellow customer Adrienne Palicki, and getting harassed by manager Josh Groban. (Kind of amazingly, it’s the crooner Groban who gets most of the laughs.)
When the owners threaten to turn Coffee Town into an upscale bistro, the pals sort of make a plan to rob Coffee Town, on the premise that if the neighborhood seems unsafe, the owners will cancel their plans. Sort of. Mostly “Coffee Town” just kind of lazily drifts from one premise to the next, with button-pushing jokes about how Howerton’s roommate (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Jake Johnson) died of AIDS, Schwartz wants to start an Ultimate Fighting league between people with Down’s syndrome and “normals” (hey, his word, not mine), and Howerton’s sweet courtship of Palicki is thwarted when he burns his junk on the laptop.
I’m not sure why none of this works, and I’ll bet writer-director Brad Copeland (who did write for “Arrested,” but also that awful “Wild Hogs” movie with John Travolta) isn’t sure either. When it was released in 2013, “Coffee Town” got a lot of hype about how it was going to topple the traditional film distribution model. Barely marketed or released to theaters, distributor FilmBuff instead focused heavily on video-on-demand sales.
Did it work? It’s probably not a good sign that “Coffee Town” didn’t come out on DVD until almost two years later.
It’s baffling. All the talent is in place for at least a decent comedy — solid actors, good writers, familiar premise — and it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because “Coffee Town” feels so calculated and engineered, carefully choosing each familiar cast member to appeal to a different comedy audience demo, each gag so obviously intended to offend in the trailer. The whole point of the movie may have been just to get some late-night laptop surfer to click the “Rent now!” button, rather than to actually enjoy it.
But good comedy isn’t built in a lab, or a marketing meeting, which may be why “Coffee Town” fails. Each person in the film went on to do better, funnier things. Things that had more heart in them, and incidentally more laughs, than this did.