Friday, February 8, 2013

The Cinema File #105: "A Haunted House" Review

I didn't like this movie. That's probably not entirely unexpected, given its a modern day horror parody movie involving a Wayans brother, which as a class of film is only decent in comparison to the much, much shittier Friedberg-Seltzer canon (and let us not forget, the even less funny Breaking Wind). And yet, I didn't hate this movie nearly as much as I thought I would either. It's not funny really, or at least not consistently, and the few times I did laugh are far outweighed by the amount of jokes that fell flat, but there was a certain charm about the whole thing that surprised me. Maybe my standards and expectations were just so low, but I'd say that while still not qualifying as good, A Haunted House might just be one of the better examples of a Wayan's produced spoof.

The story follows a young couple moving into a new home that is found to be haunted by some demonic spirit, encountering paranormal activity that they then proceed to document a la, well, Paranormal Activity. Most of the jokes are clear cuts from recent found footage movies like the oscillating fan, the time release footage of a woman standing beside a bed, and a possession subplot ripped from The Devil Inside, and for the most part they are obvious and elicit only a brief laugh, if that. At the same time, this movie did what so many other movies like it all too often fail to do, which is to take the time out in the beginning to establish the characters in such a way as to make me feel somewhat for them before turning the film over to the onslaught of hit and miss gags. As a result, a few of the more self contained moments, like the couple getting high with the ghost, or a destroyed living room being revealed to be not a supernatural event, but instead the result of one character stumbling home drunk, were a lot funnier than they otherwise would have been.

Where the movie fails completely is in the attempt to establish a roster of recurring side characters who all stink up the joint something fierce. They are all painfully unfunny, given one defining characteristic upon which all the jokes surrounding them are limply hung, and I didn't laugh once at anything they did or said. David Koechner plays a surveillance expert/reality show ghost hunter who is comically racist, Nick Swardson plays a John Edwards style medium who is a closeted homosexual, Cedric The Entertainer plays a priest hardened by a life in prison, and Andrew Daly and Alanna Ubach play a couple with a cuckold fetish in search of a Mandingo Party (something I had to Google to discover is apparently a real thing). None of them are even remotely entertaining and take up far too much of the movie's time.

Though its ultimately sort of marginal given the selection, I've always felt that Marlon Wayans was probably the most charismatic of the famous family, and as lame as many of the jokes were, I liked him in this, as well as his girlfriend played by Essence Atkins. Little moments like Wayans instantly jumping into the moving van at the first definitive sign of ghosts, or Atkins' self effacing acceptance of being a hoarder, as well as much of their comfortable banter made me at least care enough to keep watching. Perhaps it would have been asking too much of the writers to actually tell a more understated story that could fully exploit their chemistry, but I certainly would have preferred that to the grab bag of pandering pop culture references.

As I said, A Haunted House isn't very good, but it is easily the least worst of the parody movies I've seen in the last decade or so since Zucker went all American Carol on us and stopped making funny Naked Gun movies post OJ trial. If you liked any of the Scary Movie movies that didn't have Chris Elliot, James Woods, and Tim Curry in them, there's probably enough here for you to enjoy, otherwise, maybe wait to rent it. And if you liked any of the Friedberg-Seltzer movies, devote the rest of your life to building a time machine, use it to travel back in time, and give your mother an abortion.

Also, kill Hitler. Maybe do that first, but then the abortion thing.

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