A Haunted House is the first raunchy parody concocted by Marlon Wayans (he’s the star, co-writer and producer) without assistance from his brothers Shawn and Keenen Ivory. Together, the three have brought us spoofs like Scary Movie 1 & 2 and Dance Flick – in addition to non-PC comedies that people love-to-hate (White Chicks, LiTTLEMAN) – but does the “magic” vanish when it’s just Marlon, cracking sex gags and fart jokes while taking potshots at the found-footage supernatural horror movie sub-genre?
Surprisingly, Haunted House does call back to the Wayans’ breakout comedy Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, with elements of culturally and racially-based satirical humor aimed primarily at the recent slate of found-footage movies boasting predominantly caucasian casts. The problem is, well… everything else.
Story-wise (in case you care): The shenanigans involve Malcolm (Wayans), who purchases a camera with the intent of recording everything that happens after his girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) moves in. However, mysterious and inexplicable events begin to occur, inspiring the couple to have a pair of home security guys and wannabe reality television stars (David Koechner and Dave Sheridan) install cameras around the house in order to to determine the cause. Eventually they seek assistance from a psychic (Nick Swardson) and priest (Cedric the Entertainer) when it becomes apparent there are supernatural forces at work. Maybe all that has something to do with Kisha selling her soul in exchange for really nice shoes?
A Haunted House is directed by Michael Tiddes – an assistant and producer on past Wayans’ movies – and does best satirizing the stereotypical caucasian attitudes towards African-Americans (see: Andrew Daly and Alanna Ubach play Malcom and Kisha’s sexual deviant acquaintances, who assume their black friends need a little encouragement to be nasty). Similarly, there’s recognition of the humor inherent to white middle-class suburbanites with (apparently) no job or responsibilities to keep them distracted from malicious specters (a la Paranormal Activity). The film is mildly successful at ridiculing these groups but any legitimate comedy is dressed up and presented through the standard Wayans’ collection of bad-taste gags, ribald physical comedy and “offensive” jokes – all meant to shake up a viewer’s sensations.
However, unless you’re a die-hard Wayans’ fan, there’s really no reason to laugh at the results. The jabs at films such as Paranormal Activity 1-3, The Devil Inside and Last Exorcism are dull-edged and lazily strung together, while all the sex and drugs humor is boring and weakly-recycled from previous Wayans’ movies. Characters like Swardson as a “sissy” are meant to be shockingly-funny, but the homophobia is so dull (and fails at being satirical) there’s little reason to waste energy getting angry. Lastly, there are numerous bits already past their expiration dates (Paul Ryan and Blair Witch Project get referenced) and a couple that make no sense in a found-footage parody (see: an Exorcist riff).
A Haunted House only outranks the painfully-bad “spoofs” from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans) in the sense that Wayans and co-writer Rick Alvarez are actually telling jokes. Yes, they are crass and lowest-common denominator, but at least there’s a method behind them. We’ll be lucky if Scary Movie 5 (which also goes after found-footage, among other pop genres) manages as much later this year.
That’s a long-winded way of saying: Marlon Wayans has the voice of a comedian with a purpose, but expressing himself through projects like A Haunted House isn’t the way to go about convincing the masses of that. There’s little to no reason to reward or encourage any of the people involved to continue making these kind of off-putting (and instantly disposable) raunch-fests.
Unless, of course, you love everything associated with the Wayans’ name that’s been released to date. In that case: enjoy, it’s all yours.
Here is the trailer for A Haunted House:
A Haunted House is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and some drug use.