Friday, January 18, 2013

Wayans, No Brothers

Hey, remember when the Wayans name actually meant something? Back in the eighties, nineties and early 2000's, the Wayans family was the epitome of black entertainment in America. Breaking out thanks to their sketch comedy show In Living Color, they briefly became one of the premiere Hollywood families. Two of the younger members, Damon and Marlon, managed to get their horror spoof Scary Movie franchise up and running, but after a few years, a dozen clones of their easily-replicated formula, and two EXTREMELY bad movies in White Chicks in 2004 and Little Man in 2006 managed to sabotage all that. Even the somewhat more talented Marlon, who broke through with a dramatic role in 2000's Requiem for a Dream, has been unable to get his career back on track, even with a starring role in the maligned-but-successful GI Joe flick in 2009. Now he's trying to get the spoof genre back on top, and while neither you nor I should expect anything special from his found-footage A Haunted House, there's something to be said for playing to your strengths when nothing else seems to be panning out.

The only screaming has already been filmed.
There's little doubt that the "found footage" genre has gotten a bit stale, with most films copying the basic tenets of The Blair Witch Project or the Paranormal Activity series. Even when found footage movies stretch themselves into original stories, the result is not always better; for every Chronicle or Project X, you might get an Apollo 18 in return. As always, it's the quality of the filmmaker that matters, and most films like these are done by inexperienced filmmakers hoping to make a name for themselves. In this spoof, Marlon Wayans is regular guy Malcolm and Essence Atkins is his girlfriend Kisha who has just moved into his house. They've got a relatively normal life, if you discount their odd housekeeper, his gangbanging cousin, and neighbors/friends often trying to invite them to sexual antics. But when a ghost takes up residence in their abode, they will do anything in their power to expel the spirit forever. Oh yeah, and for some unexplained reason they're filming everything that goes on. Does anybody actually do that? WOULD they?

This is best left unexplained.
Seeing A Haunted House was actually Todd's idea. I'll often go and see similar-quality flicks by myself when I KNOW they'll be bad, but I usually wouldn't subject her to them when I do. But she will occasionally lobby for a specific title. In this case, she knew exactly what we were getting into: nonsensical banter, potty humor, and multiple sex jokes. I was going to count how many genitalia-influenced gags (no pun intended) were included in the script, but after three in the first two minutes I was resigned to the fact that I would soon lose track and gave up. In fact, if you're not a fan of that style of humor, don't even bother. Seriously, these jokes make up 90% of the script, and were you to remove them you'd be left with an hour and a half of silent film. There are a few bits that work when the movies makes fun of the genre, from the cheap "Ghost Hunters" knockoff mini-show to the camera built into a rotating fan, that work better than expected. But it's only a small part of the overall show. Other tired anachronisms include thuggish gangbangers, flamboyant homosexuals, racist hicks, false men of the cloth, promiscuous white women... the list goes on.

Could we have just avoided these two?
The film does have its moments, though most involve the lead pair of Wayans and Atkins. The rest of the cast are pretty much useless, and you won't get much fun out of David Koechner, Cedric the Entertainer (who has merely been Cedric the Amusing in recent years) or Nick Swardson. Wayans is arguably the funniest thing here, and his monologue on how black people wouldn't investigate scare sounds and more emotional moments (crying over his dead dog and attempting to move out at the first sign of trouble) count among the movie's best. When he actually bothers to actually mock the genre and not segue to the next sex gag is when A Haunted House actually manages to shine. Though she's a clear second to her on-screen boyfriend, Atkins will cause you to think two things: one, that she looks WAY too good for a 40 year-old; and two, that she's far too talented to have been limited to spoof movies and CW television shows for all these years. She really gets into the role, especially when her character is possessed by the demon in the house. She's far too talented an actress to make movies like this, but you can't discount what she brings to the screen when offered.

"We beat Gangster Squad opening weekend!"
For Marlon Wayans and (first-time) director Michael Tiddes, A Haunted House was an attempt to generate some attention, re-energize the spoof genre and kick-start a few careers in the process. In that they might have been successful, though "making a good movie" was definitely a long way down their list of priorities. As it stands, this largely stupid and mostly unfunny mockumentary is already trying out for the year's worst (though it'll start at #3), and 2013 has only just begun. Unless you are absolutely dying to see something so dumb to settle your troubled soul, I can't recommend this. You're better off watching the superior Scary Movie on DVD if this genre is really what you need. Or heck, even Scary Movie 2, but only if you really can't help yourself.

No comments: