Epic Movie parodies some of the most popular films ever to hit the big screen, from X-Men and Superman Returns to Pirates of the Caribbean and Borat . Written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (who were also two of the six writers of Scary Movie ), the story loosely follows the plotline to Disney's smash hit The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and focuses on four not-so-young, orphan siblings who also happen to look nothing alike.
There's Lucy (played by Red Eye's Jayma Mays), who was reared by a curator at the Louvre (where an albino assassin lurks); Edward (Kal Penn), a refugee from Mexican “libre” wrestling; Peter (Adam Campbell), a “normal” resident of a mutant “X”-community; and Susan ( White Chicks' Faune Chambers), a recent victim of snakes on her plane. The hapless quartet visits a chocolate factory, where they stumble into an enchanted wardrobe that transports them to the land of Gnarnia (with a silent “G”).
There, they meet a flamboyant pirate captain (Darrell Hammond) and earnest students of wizardry. The orphans join forces with, among others, a wise-but-horny lion named Aslo (Fred Willard) to defeat the evil White Bitch of Gnarnia, played by the fabulous Jennifer Coolidge.
“We just like these movies and thought they'd be great movies to ridicule – like The Da Vinci Code , Superman , X-Men and Nacho Libre ,” says Seltzer. “It just seemed like fun to parody them all, using Narnia as the broad outline … It just stemmed from there.”
Epic Movie reunites four of the stars from Date Movie – Campbell, Coolidge, Willard and Tony Cox ( Bad Santa , Hitch ) as Bink, the assistant/chauffeur to the White Bitch – and introduces many actors to the directors' repertory company, including the scene-stealing Crispin Glover as the chocolate factory's loyal chocolatier, Willy, and Carmen Electra as a shape-shifting mutant modeled after Mystique from the X-Men franchise.
Friedberg notes that, “We wanted a really strong ensemble cast and lots of different personalities.” While the duo's mission was definitely accomplished, the true standout performance in Epic Movie belongs to the always-funny Kal Penn as Edward, the orphan who falls under the White Bitch's spell.
“Edward is loosely based on the Edmund character from Narnia ,” Penn states. “He's jealous of his older brother, Peter, and doesn't really think that he's part of the family. He's the traitorous character. He's led to believe that the witch is going to make him king of this land, whereas my siblings are on a separate mission. He doesn't feel like he really belongs, but through the course of the story they all come together as a family to fight off the witch.”
Having co-starred in Superman Returns , Penn seems like a natural fit for Epic Movie . However, in an attempt to spoof a film where Penn is featured in a more prominent role (Penn doesn't have any lines in Returns ), Friedberg and Seltzer decided to add a reference to Penn's hit comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle in the movie.
“It was definitely important to me to ridicule something that I've done as just part of the good-natured aspect of Epic Movie ,” Penn says. “I think the great thing about all the movies we're ridiculing is that they're such a form of pop culture reference, that to even have the White Castle reference was kind of an honor.”
While fans of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle should enjoy the playful stab Epic Movie takes at the hit film (Bravo credits the comedy with being number 95 on its list of 100 Funniest Movies), those who have been waiting almost three years for the highly anticipated sequel might feel a bit disappointed with the in-your-face reminder that Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam hasn't hit theaters yet. However, rumor has it the film is finally in its pre-production state, with a tentative release scheduled for 2008.
If Epic Movie doesn't earn epic proportions at the box office, Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam couldn't come at a better time for Penn, whose Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj recently tanked at the box office. Despite poor ticket sales, the former UCLA student says he enjoyed the time he spent shooting the Ryan Reynolds-less sequel in Romania and London, as well as the time he spent in India filming his next film, the March release The Namesake .
Based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and directed by Mira Nair ( Monsoon Wedding ), The Namesake deals with issues that many immigrants around the world face on a daily basis, trying to discover their identity when they are forced to grow up in two worlds simultaneously and having to choose which world they ultimately want.
The film shows off a more dramatic side of Penn than people are used to seeing on the big screen, although the 29-year-old is no stranger to drama on television. Most recently, Penn appeared on the critically acclaimed Fox drama “24” as Ahmed Amar, an Islamic terrorist, and prior to that appeared on such other hit TV dramas as “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “NYPD Blue.”
Don't think for a second, though, that Penn's leaving behind the genre that made him famous. The actor has also been linked to the new comedy by director Mort Nathan ( Van Wilder 2 , Boat Trip ) entitled Under New Management . The film focuses on two co-workers who send their boss on a sex cruise and then turn their office into party central, causing profits to soar in the process. It's just the type of comedy fans have come to expect from the New Jersey native.
But while Penn's area of expertise is obviously in comedy, his recent foray into drama should have casting directors taking note of one of Hollywood's most promising rising stars. And should Epic Movie and Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam be the hits their respective studios are banking on, it should only be a matter of time before Penn's starring in an epic movie of his own – and unlike Superman Returns , this time he'll even have some lines!
Epic Movie releases in theaters Jan. 26.