Hollywood Shorthand has been around for a long time (“It’s Citizen Kane meets Surf Ninjas with shades of Kangaroo Jack!”). It used to be the best way for an aspiring writer or producer to pitch his project, comparing a work people hadn’t seen before to a couple they had, in order to give them some idea of what it was about. Everyone does it, it’s a great way to simplify. As time went on, the shorthand seems to have become less about simplification, and more often a jumping off point, a guide for the whole film. “It’s Cowboys… verses Aliens! 27 Dresses! Bridesmaids’ dresses! She has 27 of them!”
Other times, people — producers, flacks, executives; people who give soundbites to trade mags — will simply throw in a comparison that has nothing to do with the story they’re telling, and everything to do with whatever hip, popular thing they want people to associate with it. Frequently-used references of the last five years include The 300, Avatar, The Dark Knight, Sin City… if someone had been able to copyright the word “gritty” in reference to a movie pitch, he’d be a billionaire. Just say “with the tone of” or “with the attitude of”, and you can compare a film to anything popular. And if it comes from a press release… well. There aren’t many things in this world as vague, silly, and nonsensical as bad PR writing. Even if the shorthand is apt, it can come off preposterous and hilarious-sounding depending on the idea, and more often than not, the shorthand is nonsensical and absurd, and comes out sounding like a poorly-translated mad lib to anyone who hasn’t been doing a lot of cocaine. For instance, if you spent too much time reading Hollywood trades, you might not realize Mitch Hurwitz was joking when he told a reporter that the story of the Arrested Development movie would be “basically Valkyrie meets Hotel for Dogs.”
Of course, we’re here to celebrate, not complain. I love absurdist, coke-fueled Mad Libs, almost as much as I love cocaine. So here they are, some the silliest, most absurd synopsis descriptions I could find.