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

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 5:30 a.m. MDT

Marlon Brando is shown in a scene from Marlon Brando is shown in a scene from "The Godfather." (Paramount Pictures)

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?

Since Arnold Schwarzenegger has used it over and over in his movies and his political life for nearly 30 years, everyone probably recognizes the phrase as something originally spoken by him. But where did he say it first?

If you said “The Terminator,” you’re right. But if you couldn’t quite come up with that, don’t feel bad. He’s said it so many times in so many films and so often on the political stage that even he probably doesn’t remember where it started.

In fact, although Schwarzenegger initially said “I’ll be back” at a key moment in the first “Terminator” movie, the line, or a variation, is used in all of the subsequent “Terminator” sequels — including the one he’s not in, “Terminator Salvation.”

And Schwarzenegger also uses the phrase, or a variant, in “Commando,” “Raw Deal,” “The Running Man,” “Twins,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Last Action Hero,” “Jingle All the Way” and “The 6th Day.” And he often said it when he was on the political stage during his tenure as California governor.

Schwarzenegger even uses it a couple of times in his latest movie, “The Expendables 2.” The second time, Bruce Willis mocks him for it. But even that joke isn’t new. Way back in 1993, a character in “Last Action Hero” also mocked Schwarzenegger’s overuse of the phrase.

So will he say it again in January when his next movie, “The Last Stand,” opens? Maybe he’ll say “Hasta la vista, baby,” instead.

I know I won’t be the last word on this. So you’re welcome to argue that others — “May the Force be with you,” or “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a ... ” or “You can’t handle the truth,” or myriad others — are equally worn out.

But all that means is, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” And since “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” then I guess “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

So “here’s looking at you, kid.”

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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