‘Between Two Ferns’ plants lots of laughs in Netflix movie

‘Between Two Ferns’ plants lots of laughs in Netflix movie
Netflix via CNN

“Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is perhaps inevitably best consumed in bite-sized bits, bringing back Zach Galifianakis from his popular web series as the worst (or depending on one’s point of view, best) celebrity interviewer ever. The movie’s conceit is hit-miss, but when it works — yielding deadpan insults and pained expressions — there are enough laughs to make digging up “Ferns” look like a fine idea.

Again playing a twisted version of himself, Galifianakis is introduced at a North Carolina public-access station, very uncomfortably interviewing Matthew McConaughey. The chat goes spectacularly wrong, but it’s quickly followed by an opportunity: A pitch from Funny or Die’s Will Ferrell (playing a Scooby-Doo villain version of himself) to conduct 10 interviews in two weeks, in order to win Galifianakis the actual-network talkshow he craves.

What ensues, then, is basically a standard road movie, interspersed with a star-studded array of “Ferns” interviews. Galifianakis brings with him quirky sidekicks from the station, including his relentlessly upbeat producer Carol (Lauren Lapkus), who tries to buck up everyone’s spirits no matter how terribly events unfold.

“I want people to laugh with me, not at me,” Zach proclaims, with the idea that his interviews have turned out to be viral sensations because they’re so awful.

As for the who’s who of stars to be roasted, they include Keanu Reeves, David Letterman, Brie Larson, Jon Hamm, Peter Dinklage, and Paul Rudd, among others. The best, arguably, involves Chrissy Teigen, although the details are far too good to give away.

Even at a mere 80-some-odd minutes, the movie (written and directed by Scott Aukerman, who broke the story with Galifianakis) begins to feel a trifle listless in the let’s-put-on-a-show department, but fortunately, every time it starts to sag there’s another interview — with nifty little touches, like a chyron that reads “Bill or Ted” during the Reeves chat — to reinvigorate things.

The real highlight, however, comes at the very end, which features a compilation of outtakes, capturing just how challenging it is for Galifianakis and his victims to maintain a straight face.

There is, of course, a long tradition of celebrities demonstrating what good sports they can be by subjecting themselves to such carefully managed ridicule — as well as politicians, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton among past guests — but Galifianakis is more skilled practitioner than most.

While “Between Two Ferns” wasn’t exactly crying out for this sort of treatment, there’s considerable fun to be unearthed, still, from planting Galifianakis across from a celebrity, letting a camera roll and seeing what sprouts.

“Between Two Ferns: The Movie” premieres Sept. 20 on Netflix.