Every year, there is one comedy that rises above the rest, one that simply makes me laugh harder than any other film in the theater that year. It’s something I keep tally of each year just like my list of favorite films at the end of the year. I’ve kept track since I saw MacGruber in 2010, which is still to date the hardest I’ve ever laughed in a theater. In 2012 the film was 21 Jump Street, 2013 was This is the End, 2014 was 22 Jump Street and 2016 was Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. It’s only July, but I feel confident in bestowing the honor of the film I laughed the hardest during to HBO’s Tour De Pharmacy. Except, it’s not in theaters. I guess with an opening like that, I should have some opinion on what it means that this film isn’t in theaters and what that means for film or something. I don’t. I just think it’s unique when a film makes me laugh just as hard on my own as I would with an audience.
This is the second faux HBO sports documentary collaboration from the trifecta of Jake Szymanski (Director), Murray Miller (Writer) and Andy Samberg (Actor).Their first work together was 2015’s 7 Days in Hell, following a brutal tennis match between bad boy tennis superstar Aaron Williams (Samberg) and child tennis prodigy Charles Poole (Kit Harrington) that lasted 7 days. Tour De Pharmacy follows the 1982 Tour de France, where every single cyclist was on performance enhancing drugs to the point it was an almost level playing field. It’s ripe subject matter, just waiting to be properly satirized and poked fun at. Cycling might be the only sport that’s had a tougher time with PEDs than Baseball.
One of the things they do in these films is take an actor (or two) that haven’t really done comedy and turn them loose to hilarious results. Remember how actually funny Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington was in 7 Days in Hell as dimwitted British tennis phenom Charles Poole. Michael Sheen played a perverted English sports talk show host that hits on Poole. Here you have somebody like Orlando Bloom as Italian cyclist Juju Pepe, and he’s hilarious even with limited minutes. James Marsden is great as BBC reporter Rex Honeycut, who rides alongside the cyclists and at one point tries to win the tour. Freddie Highmore gets some great moments as Adrian Baton, a female cyclist pretending to be male to compete, and Julia Ormond is the current day Adriana Baton. Kevin Bacon is Ditmer Klerken, the corrupt Swedish head of the UCI, the organization in charge of testing riders for drugs. Bacon gets one of the best lines of the film with “Most hardcore cyclists know cycling was invented so that men could fuck in the hills.”
The rest of the casting is aces. Daveed Diggs is Slim Robinson, the nephew of Jackie Robinson whose main goal in life is to be the first black athlete in some sport, with cycling being the last sport that he can break the color barrier in. Samberg plays Marty Hass, a cyclist from Nigeria who is the son of a blood diamond mine owner, went to America for school yet still ignorantly claims Nigeria as his homeland even though nobody there likes him. He tells Honeycut in an interview, “I don’t know if you know this, but Africa has been through some pretty weak stuff.” He thinks Bob Marley is African music, not Jamaican. He quotes the lyrics from Toto’s “Africa” as if he originated them. John Cena is an over-roided cyclist, the hilarity is watching someone with Cena’s muscle mass on a bicycle. This film really understands the tremendous comedic talent Cena has, and how much his physicality can elicit laughs. To cap it off, Dolph Lundgren is the current day Gustav Ditters, Jeff Goldblum is the current day Marty Hass, and Danny Glover is the current day Slim Robinson.
Nathan Fielder plays Stu Ruckman, the current head of the world anti-doping agency. He claims they have to try all the drugs they test for so they know what they’re dealing with, and he paints what he feels like while on the drugs. While on amphetamines, he painted a picture of him sucking a bear’s dick. On crack/cocaine he’s still sucking a bear’s dick. On Meth, the bear is sucking his dick this time. He caps it off with “And all of these are for sale.” in the sheepishly confident way only Nathan Fielder can deliver such a line. Will Forte gave me MacGruber “JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO FUCK” flashbacks as a French policeman who accidentally injects himself with amphetamines than asks the newswoman to fuck him with his clubstick.
They also get famous figures in the sports to play themselves, and there’s a certain comedic shock in the simple fact that they get them to do this. John McEnroe appeared in 7 Days in Hell, and here they land the great white whale of doping in cycling to lampoon himself – Lance Armstrong. He’s in the shadowy silhouette framing, and his voice is warped to keep him anonymous, but he becomes less and less anonymous throughout the film. He blows his cover when he checks a text from his lawyer and the light shows his face. Later a door opens up, letting light in from the next room. Pretty soon they’re just turning on lights and opening blinds. Finally, at the end, they just add his name on the screen.
What really allows the comedy to happen is how they completely nail how these sporting events were filmed and covered. It’s not just putting a filter on the footage to age it, what happens in the footage has to be convincingly retro in order to work. You can tell they do their homework on how these events are covered, what kind of outfits and hairstyles athletes were sporting, and the sort of informal language involved in each sport. They make it really feel like they’ve assembled all the footage from previously existing coverage. The footage looks just as good as the real thing. Szymanski has really proven his chops in recreating footage to make it feel spontaneous. It’s no coincidence the best bits in his otherwise sup-par studio comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates involved home-video footage of the brother’s antics going haywire at family events.
The look and feel of the whole thing is authentic, which is why it’s even funnier when they go off the rails. There’s an absurd Finnish credit card commercial that ties into the corruption of the Tour, and it has a husband spill a carton of milk in front of his wife, so in order to pay for it he has to give her oral sex while she drinks milk. It’s fucking hilarious. Within 2 minutes of the film starting, there is a dick out. It’s hilarious. Dicks are hilarious. There’s just something that’s inherently comedically shocking about a peen on screen, and these guys know just how to press that button. A full out fist fight amongst all the riders starts when Juju Pepe tries to grope a hot fan and loses his balance, causing all the riders to crash. There’s one rider that wears see through spandex because he believes the material gives him an advantage, and you can see his full, unimpressive junk. “It was like a pistachio nut in a dirty bird’s nest.” One interview subject remarks. Again, dicks are hilarious.
At just 40 minutes, the film is edited down to the best of the best, delivering a laugh-every-30-seconds timing to it that feels effortless. This is a heavily constructed film that feels light as a breeze in how it whisks you through each sequence of hilarity, going off on several wild tangents without losing its core purpose. I sincerely hope that Samberg, Miller and Szymanski continue to churn out these sports mocumentaries, because they’ve really tapped into something.