Chris Hicks: If you want to 'make my day,' don't say 'I'll be back'

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

Anyone else out there getting tired of so many jokes in modern movies and TV shows referencing other movies and TV shows?

Pop culture seems to have taken over humor in every form these days. But for me, a little goes a long way.

Many of these references have been used and overused so that they’ve worn out their welcome. And others are so arcane that very few audience members get them.

I often find myself saying, “Is a puzzlement!”

And yes, that’s a pop-culture reference, a line from “The King and I.” If you recognized it, you’re either of a certain age or you’re a musical-theater aficionado. But it demonstrates how these references often resonate with only a very limited audience.

Same goes for two films in theaters right now, “Hotel Transylvania” and “Frankenweenie,” animated features marketed to children but with an awful lot of content that seems to be aimed at their grandparents, since the bulk of their comic cues are taken from the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and ’40s.

“Hotel Transylvania” uses that template for its lead character, Dracula, and in support are a bevy of creatures straight out of the Universal playbook: the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy and, of course, the Frankenstein monster.

Interestingly, the Dracula character has a running gag where people mock him with, “Ba-blah, ba-blah, ba-blah,” and Dracula gets upset, responding, “I never said that!” And he’s right. Bela Lugosi never said that, but from the 1950s forward, a lot of comics impersonating Lugosi did.

Are kids going to get the joke? Are their parents going to get it? Or even their grandparents?

Of course, it isn’t all old references. There’s also a Twilight gag. And the film is actually sunny and sweet. And that mix may explain why “Hotel Transylvania” is a big hit.

“Frankenweenie,” on the other hand, is very dark, referencing very specifically the 1930 “Frankenstein” and the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein.” It’s even in black and white. All of which may explain why it’s a big flop.

But more often, pop-culture references are simply one-liners repeated from popular movies. And when one of those lines is used out of context, I wonder if many people who get the joke, or recognize the line, don’t just know it from some other jokey out-of-context usage.

In other words, when you hear “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” do you know where it originated? How about “You talkin’ to me?” or “Go ahead, make my day”?

Sure, you’ve heard them. You may even know the actors associated with them — Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood, respectively. But can you name the movies?

I’m guessing the first two aren’t all that difficult, even if you haven’t actually seen them: “The Godfather” (1972) and “Taxi Driver” (1976). But what about the third?

If you said “Dirty Harry,” you get half a point. You have the right character, but the wrong film. There were five Dirty Harry movies. And “Go ahead, make my day” came from No. 4, “Sudden Impact” (1983).

One-liners like these are all over the place and have been for so long that I’m pretty sure the latest generation of moviegoers, and maybe their parents, have no idea where they come from.

Arguably, the most overused is “I’ll be back.” Can we put a moratorium on that one, please?

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