Stars: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Marlene Forte, David Koechner, Dave Sheridan, Nick Swardson, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly, Affion Crockett and Cedric the Entertainer.
Writers: Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez.
Director: Michael Tiddes.
The enthusiasm and willingness of the players far outweighs any wit or invention exhibited in the ghost-story parody, A Haunted House, Marlon Wayans first foray into big-screen comedy sans his brothers. Sporadically misogynistic, homophobic and grade-school puerile in equal measure, it is also not without the occasional laugh-out-loud moment, though be warned – no body function (or its by-product) is overlooked if a giggle, however meagre, can be milked.
Wayans is a gifted comedian, but here he has to work the physical schtick to a far greater degree than we have come to expect from him. He tackled the ‘genre parody’ material to slightly better effect 13 years ago in the original Scary Movie; at best, his latest effort allows him room to work his improvisational skills but must be considered a sideways career step.
The film’s first half is essentially a send-up of the first Paranormal Activity film (for those who can recall it), with Wayans as Malcolm Jones, a new homeowner welcoming his long-time girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins) into his man-world. In line with the film’s specifically male-centric point-of-view, gags abound about her weird sleeping habits, sudden lack of sex drive, messy bathroom routine and reluctance to cook. Atkins (reteaming with her Dance Flick co-star) is funny and lovely, a patient foil and good sport opposite Wayan’s coarse every-man (a highlight is her somnambulistic dance moves).
When some wacky supernatural moments spook them, they call on David Koechner’s CCTV expert/ghost hunter Dan and his simpleton brother Bob (Dave Sheridan), gangsta cousin Ray Ray (Affion Crockett) and, to greatest comic effect, Nick Swardson’s occasionally hilarious though glaringly un-PC gay psychic, Chip. Turning its satiric eye on the 2012 hit The Devil Inside opens the film up to Cedric the Entertainer’s ex-con priest Father Williams; the final half hour, which features all key players trying to subdue and exorcise the possessed Kisha, is good for a few well-timed chuckles.
Feature debutant director Michael Tiddes clearly understands the found footage concept well, though to suggest this is an auteur’s work is a bit of a stretch. His main role seems to be to let the cast work their comic chops and hope the footage all cuts together at some point. Some gags push accepted boundaries; rape and domestic violence ‘jokes’ need to be a lot more contextual and subversive (ala Todd Solondz) to soften the inherently distasteful elements. Most other attempts at humour amount to unwieldy extended skits that may appeal to juvenile intellects and those familiar with the source material.
Read the SCREEN-SPACE interview with Marlon Wayans here.