“Between Two Ferns,” for those out of the loop, is a popular series of “Funny or Die” videos, in which the comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis plays the preposterously stupid host of a public-access talk show. The result is an uproariously funny intersection of celebrity roasting, absurdist humor and typo-ridden chyrons — perfect fodder for five-minute YouTube consumption.
When “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” the new Netflix adaptation, simply reproduces the material in question, it is laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s barely a movie.
The wraparound material, which exists solely to get us from one segment to the next, Galifianakis challenged by Will Ferrell — playing a juiced-up version of himself as the coke-addicted, click-obsessed head of Funny or Die — to create 10 new episodes in two weeks as he crosses the country. It’s that old standby, the road movie, with a promise that Galifianakis will get his own network show at the journey’s conclusion.
Some promising ideas and characters are introduced, but the narrative is so superfluous, the connecting segments so fleeting, that little is fleshed out. Scott Aukerman, who wrote the screenplay and directed, displays a keen sense of self-awareness, sends up some formal conventions, and seems on his way to really knifing the insipidity of contemporary network talk shows. But he ultimately, disappointingly, backs off, and the “Cannonball Run”-style end-credit bloopers effectively defang whatever celebrity satire the franchise achieves — a winking assurance that everyone is in on the joke, and it’s all in good fun.
“Between Two Ferns,” to reiterate, is packed with laughs, most of them at the expense of its celebrity participants. (Our host calls the bushy-bearded David Letterman “Crystal Meth Santa Claus” and asks, “Did you just wake up from a 15-year nap?”) But as many a “Saturday Night Live” performer has discovered, it’s difficult to stretch the premise and humor of a five-minute segment into a 90-minute narrative. One is left wondering why Galifianakis and Aukerman bothered to make “Between Two Ferns” a movie at all, when its best pieces so clearly belong in its original format.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes.