Since Epic Movie was not screened for members of the press, here's what I had to spend in order to bring you this review on opening day: A $19 cab ride, a $7 movie ticket and a $10 day-pass for T-Mobile's wireless internet access at a nearby Border's Book Store, which is where I am currently sitting, drinking a (very strong) vanilla latte and trying to figure out how in the hell a movie this sloppy and stupid could ever earn itself a theatrical release. One can only assume that last year's Date Movie (which was perpetrated by the same duo that unleashed Epic Movie) made just enough money to warrant (yet) another pseudo-movie in which a dozen recent blockbusters are spoofed in amazingly limp and uncreative fashion.

Suffice it to say I really took one for the team today. To be completely fair, I chuckled two or three times during the generally witless Epic Movie, which instantly makes the flick more recommendable than Date Movie -- but if all a movie can give you is a small handful of stray and listless chuckles, well, I don't really think that's a movie worthy of your eight dollars (to say nothing of the $36 I just wasted this afternoon).

The plot is a misshapen amalgam of films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Da Vinci Code, but whenever those zany screenwriters (Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg) get stuck coming up with another flaccid gag, they have no problem yanking "inspiration" from Nacho Libre, Snakes on a Plane, X-Men, Mission Impossible and Click. (Yes, Click.) Movies deemed worthy of only a cursory or half-hearted swipe include Hustle & Flow, Star Wars, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and ... Talladega Nights? Really? And was that actually a Borat look-alike wedged in just prior to the end credits? Yeesh.

And therein lies the problem with junky little non-movies like Epic Movie: They are intent (no, insistent) on delivering only the broadest and most obvious references to other movies; there's no actual wit, insight or satire found here -- just moments where you're supposed to yell "Oh, ha ha, he looks like Wolverine!" or "Oh, that looks like the set from The Da Vinci Code! How very amusing to me!!" A particularly (and annoyingly) piece of irony is this: In the very brief moments when Epic Movie is NOT cribbing off of other (mostly good) movies, there are a few brief glimmers of actual comedy. I've always been a fan of over-the-top slapstick, so I noticed a few isolated (mostly throwaway) bits that were actually kinda ... funny! (Not hilarious, mind you, but yes: kinda funny.) Unfortunately the few small thimblefuls of amusement are buried beneath thud after thud of gags hitting the floor. When in doubt, the filmmakers resort to having their characters break into dance ... because nothing in the universe is funnier than watching Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka break out into hip-hop gyrations. Ugh.

"The good stuff" (all things being relative) come almost exclusively from angel-faced newcomer Jayma Mays; the gal's material is not much more than "dumb & clumsy" schtick, but she's one of the only performers to escape from Epic Movie with a passing grade. Veterans like Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge are left floundering with material that's really quite terrible; leading men Kal Penn and Adam Campbell earn points for enthusiasm, but they're not talented enough actors to salvage this screenplay. (In their defense, I doubt that even history's best comedians could make something out of the Epic Movie script.) Cameos by folks like Carmen Electra, David Carradine, Kevin McDonald, Crispin Glover and Darrell Hammond add nothing to the proceedings beside extra running time. (And at 80-some mostly painful minutes, Epic Movie is still a pretty anemic affair.)

At least Epic Movie approaches something resembling a "real movie." It has passable production design and there seems to have been a yeoman's attempt at stuff like special effects and costume design -- but it's all in service of a terrible silly collection of ideas. I've no doubt that Friedberg and Seltzer are fairly funny guys, but based only on what's been seen in movies "Date" and Epic," I'm beginning to think they're actually those "lamp shade on the head" guys who are so damn annoying at parties. Were they able to come up with some of their own ideas and stop aimlessly aping other people's flicks, I'd be happy to take a look and thrilled to actually enjoy it.

But if all they're going to do for the next fifteen years is dole out assembly-line pop-culture detritus like Epic Movie, you'll forgive me if I skip their next ones. The expense is too great -- and life is too short.