From just about every perspective that doesn’t involve writer / director / star Paul Fenech cashing in, bringing the worlds of Housos and Fat Pizza together makes no sense. And not just in the traditional “ugh, Aliens versus Predator really messed up both franchises” way that bringing different worlds together in the one movie is almost always a massive artistic fail because… look, it’s Paul Fenech we’re talking about here, ok? Both shows are just about him and his mates running around swearing their heads off, right?
But Fat Pizza vs Housos turns out to be surprising in one unexpected way – yeah, we kind of guessed that there’d be new depths plumbed here, so that “surprise” doesn’t count. No, the big surprise here is that it’s conclusive proof that Fenech’s wacky full-bore style of comedy is actually, measurably getting worse.
Much as we like to sneer dismissively at Fenech’s work, we try to do so for reasons apart from the usual “ugh, he’s making shows about poor people” and “this show is just a thrown together mess” reasons so beloved of the tiny wedge of the Australian media that actually pay attention to his work. So one thing that didn’t surprise us about Fat Pizza vs Housos is that it actually has a real story: the film begins with former Fat Pizza owner Bobo (John Boxer) leaving prison after serving a 15 year stretch for chainsawing someone who annoyed him. Now he (and his mother) are on a mission to rebuild the Pizza business. Only problem is, over those fifteen years away rents and wages have skyrocketed (by their standards), and the only place crummy enough to be affordable is Sunnyvale, home of the Housos.
As you’d expect, having an open and functioning business in their neighbourhood messes with the Housos’ do-nothing ethos, even if they do like the pizzas. Things get worse once Bobo’s mum starts pulling strings at the local Centerlink to first get the locals working there for free as a work-for-the-dole scheme, then have their benefits paid in food vouchers that they have to spend at Fat Pizza.
Meanwhile recent anti-bikie legislation has de-fanged the local bikie gang (who now have to travel everywhere by maxitaxi), allowing Habib (Tahir Bilgic) – now back working at Fat Pizza – and his drug dealing mates to corner the market by peddling drugs inside the pizzas. So while half the locals want to tear the place down for messing with their dole, the other half are hanging around looking to score. As they say in news reports, it’s a volatile mix.
Keen-eyed readers will have spotted that while that’s an actual story, it’s one that at most takes about ten minutes to tell. So Fenech pads it out with the usual Housos stuff: “thongings” (Frankie has developed a boomerang version), topless women, swearing dwarves, fat cops pigging out, sex dungeons and songs that involve people shouting the name of the TV series – though most of these songs are holdovers from Fat Pizza. There’s even a brief Swift & Shift Couriers cameo at the start, for the two people that watched that deservedly unloved Fenech series.
It seems like just the same loud cartoony stuff he’s been serving up for close to twenty years now, which is why he’s received close to zero real critical attention for close to twenty years. But in bringing back the original Fat Pizza cast of characters – Sleek the Elite returns halfway through after spending the last fifteen years in Gitmo, while Fenech plays both Houso’s thong-wielding sex machine Frankie and Fat Pizza’s hopeless Paulie, who also spent the last fifteen years away (in his case, trapped in a sex dungeon) – it becomes clear that Fenech has gotten a shitload lazier over those twenty years.
The Fat Pizza characters might be face-pulling morons, but they’re actual comedy characters of a sort: Habib is a dodgy guy trying to get rich the easy way, Sleek the Elite… ok, he’s just a shit rapper, and Paulie is a hopeless loser constantly getting into trouble. Oh, and Bobo’s a thug obsessed with chainsaws. There’s not much to work with there, but it’s at least possible to build stories around them.
The Housos cast, on the other hand… well, they shout a lot. Frankie slaps people (usually authority figures) with his thong, the cops chase him but they’re too fat to catch him, a lot of people in wheelchairs zip around, “The Junkies” try to steal shit, “The Bikies” yell a lot and sell drugs, Habib and his crew try to sell drugs, there’s a cranky grannie and a lumbering idiot and the rest just blur into one mass of shouty morons. It’s a live-action cartoon; this is not a good thing.
The reason why the words “live-action cartoon” fill viewers with dread is because cartoons and live-action work in different ways. Cartoons are animated: animation means a lot more of the energy a comedy needs can come from having the characters do things that real-life people can’t. You don’t need to give characters in cartoons a lot of depth – though Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are a lot closer to real people than anyone in Housos, and they’re cartoon animals with only 7 or 8 minutes per classic episode – because you can do all manner of crazy stuff with and to them.
Housos seems designed to work the same way a cartoon does. Even the minor depth of the Fat Pizza characters is gone: Housos just features no-dimensional characters having slapstick adventures in a crazy setting. But the team at Warner Brothers who made the Looney Tunes shorts were bona fide geniuses working in a medium where they could put literally anything on the screen: Fenech is marginally competent director who thinks creating characters who run around swearing is all he has to do to get laughs. He’s even given up using his imagination when it comes to slinging insults: if you laughed at “fucked in the face” back in season one of Housos, Fenech hasn’t bothered coming up with anything new – let alone better – here.
Rumour has it Fenech’s movies’ profitability comes more from their cheap production costs than their box office take. But make money they do and so Fenech shows no sign of quitting, even though he’d be doing us all a favour if he did. Fat Pizza vs Housos ends on a cliffhanger (of sorts) and the news that the story will continue in Fat Pizza vs Housos vs Authority. His shit was barely tolerable when they were giving it away on SBS: he’s fucked in the face if he expects anyone to pay for it now.