Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cheech & Chong's the Corsican Brothers - 1984

"Cheech & Chong's the Corsican Brothers" - 1984
Dir. by Tommy Chong - 1 hr. 22 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

So.  "Cheech & Chong's the Corsican Brothers," also known as "that movie where Cheech fists a horse."  And as much as I hate to admit it, that was one of the funnier things that happened during this movie.  "The Corsican Brothers" is an odd duck; it's episodic like their earlier movies, but it's also completely devoid of any of the drug humor that Cheech and Chong made their name on, and they also aren't playing "Cheech and Chong."  Instead, Cheech runs through a few personae (sort of), and Chong largely plays what would have to be described as an unwitting soap opera star.

After a framing device that has Cheech and Chong playing loud, obnoxious music and getting paid to stop, a fortune-teller with an eye on their proceeds launches into a tale of their ancestors: The Corsican brothers, Lucian (Chong) and Louis (Cheech).  They are twins, residing in France, and share such a bond that they actually feel whatever pain is inflicted on the other.  They are separated in their childhood, which sends Louis to Mexico to grow up (he got lost, but won't admit it), and turns Lucian into a revolutionary.  Their foil is The Evil Fuckaire (Roy Dotrice), a perverted ruler with a spectacular name and a penchant for wearing studded codpieces and pancake makeup.  Edie McClurg plays The Queen, and is awesome as usual.

I can't help but feel like this movie engaged in a bit of bait-and-switch.  I also feel like I need to do some online sleuthing to figure out exactly what was going on, in terms of the rationale behind making this film.  It's the only Cheech & Chong film that didn't pull a R-rating, and that might be part of why this didn't feel like the kind of movie that I was expecting out of them.  Also, with some of the comedy set-ups, they didn't go as far as I was expecting them to, which is a problem.  If they decided to bill this as a "Cheech & Chong" film, they had to be aware that there were certain things that were going to be expected of them.  Not wanting to completely repeat themselves is an understandable (and noble) artistic impulse, but brand names come with baggage.

Once you get past that you're not going to get what you expect out of "The Corsican Brothers," you have to deal with what is present.  This a slight film, built heavily around sight gags and the duo playing unexpected characters (Cheech as a gay hair-dresser, and Chong as the soap opera star).  If you ignore the credits and the framing sequence, the main story probably barely breaks one hour long, and that's including a sequence of the Corsican brothers' birth, and an extended gag sequence of them eating spaghetti as babies (with facial hair, which will forever be funny).  The main part of the film doesn't overstay it's welcome, but it also doesn't feel like there was much more to be teased out of the set-ups (at least not without upgrading to a R-rating).  But then again, times have surely changed when a film that has bare breasts, a name that contains a naughty word, and Cheech accidentally fisting a horse (yes, really, all the way up to the shoulder) can avoid that R-rating.

I guess my main complaint is that Cheech & Chong themselves don't work well in a PG format.  And when you've got a villain named The Evil Fuckaire, which is awesome, and then can't fully exploit the fact that he's a BDSM-loving pervert who gets off from being whipped and from being called a pervert, why not just pocket that idea until you have a better arena to let him loose in?  Anyways, the actors that are involved do a decent job here, but no one has the foundation or the room to stretch out and really let stuff fly.  Even so, "The Corsican Brothers" is one of those low-budget movies that actually benefits from that approach - it feels like they all got some tights, rolled into a Renn Faire, and spent a week screwing around.  That sort of approach works for ideas like this one, even if it rarely results in a decent film.  It just makes it hard to dislike the product, even when you don't like the movie entirely.  So, while this is definitely not up to the par of their first two films, the worst I can say about this one is that it's inconsequential.

1.5 / 5 - TV

Monday, March 25, 2013

Django Unchained - 2012

"Django Unchained" - 2012
Dir. by Quentin Tarantino - 2 hrs. 45 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

This was certainly worth the wait.  And "Django Unchained" is another on the list of films from 2012 that both played broadly and were excellent movies.  Yeah, I'm biased, I always look forward to any new Quentin Tarantino project, but this film stacks up against the rest of his work, save for "Pulp Fiction."  So let's get down to why this was a really good movie!

About two years before the American Civil War (as a subtitle helpfully explains), Django (Jamie Foxx) and a handful of other slaves are being marched through Texas to wherever they're going to end up.  A German dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), has sought out the slave traders directing this march in order to purchase Django.  It turns out that Dr. Schultz isn't a dentist (at least not currently one), but instead is a bounty hunter, and Django can recognize the Brittle Brothers (who all have sizable bounties on their heads), and Django eventually ends up being drawn into the bounty hunting business.  But Django has a larger goal; he has to track down his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was deliberately sold to another plantation out of spite for Django.  Dr. Schultz agrees to help (there is a famous German myth about a Broomhilda), and they eventually set out for Mississippi and Candieland (I promise it makes sense in the context of the movie).

There is a broad compliment to be paid to Tarantino and "Django Unchained:" this did not feel like a nearly-three hour film.  There might not be anything worse than a long, mediocre film, and "Django" was definitely not mediocre.  One of Tarantino's signature strengths is the ability to build tension within a scene, usually for way longer than you'd figure possible.  He also usually writes characters who have both a plan and a flair for the dramatic, which means that as soon as you figure out who's going to be butting heads with whom, you know that it's going to play out spectacularly.  And also, something that you'd figure is going to be the main thrust of the film (in this instance, it would have been the first act's arc of Dr. Schultz and Django tracking the Brittle brothers) ends up resolving unexpectedly and quickly, and then the characters are on to bigger and better things.  In practice, this allows for Tarantino to construct a film of mini-movies; "Django" probably could have played out over the course of three films if he had wanted to do things in that manner.

Also, as is standard for a Tarantino movie, he gets exactly what he needs from each of the primary actors.  Waltz is fantastic, playing a calm, clever man who is always one step ahead of the situation (until he gets in a little over his head with Calvin Candie).  Jamie Foxx is also fantastic, hitting the right notes all along.  Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the biggest villain of the film in Calvin Candie, proprietor of mega-plantation Candieland, makes the intellectual duel between himself and Dr. Schultz interesting.  Candie isn't supposed to be as smart as Dr. Schultz, but he's got the home-field advantage and is vastly more sadistic.  Honestly, the worst thing you could say about any of the actors in this cast is that they did what they were supposed to, and let the stars shine.  Don Johnson and Walton Goggins also have memorable, brief roles.

As per usual, whenever there is a new Tarantino movie, there is inevitable hand-wringing about the racial language used.  And let's be very, very clear, Tarantino uses every possible slur in that vein imaginable.  It's not my place to defend or prosecute here.  Instead, I propose two things.  First, it's clear that Quentin Tarantino is not interested in making palatable "entertainment."  The vast majority of movies produced aim to go down easy, with no aftertaste.  That is not what "Django Unchained" is.  To put it into professional wrestling terms, the scourge of the industry is a "cool heel."  That means a bad guy who gets to do all the things that make someone a bad guy, but does it in such a way that he ends up getting cheered for his bad behavior.  It completely screws up the good guy/bad guy dynamic that morality tales usually are.  But it's way easier to do that than to get an audience that's pretty onto all of the tricks to still boo you.  It's a testament to a given wrestler's talent and skill to be able to genuinely get under the skin of an audience that is in on the secret.  Movies are kind of the same way.  It's way, way easier to just fill up a story with a bunch of stylish baddies than it is to build up just one villain that an audience will genuinely hate, which is necessary if you expect anyone to care about your hero and his story.

The Calvin Candie character manages to pull that off.  You're not supposed to like him, even as he displays his hospitality and seems stuck on 100% charm for much of the story.  If he uses abominable language, treats people poorly (which would be a vast understatement), and tries to pretend he's smarter than he actually is, and then you (as an audience member) react negatively to him, that's the entire point.  Calvin Candie is the bad guy, and when he punishes a runaway slave by letting a pack of dogs rip him apart, you're not supposed to chuckle.  Candie is a bad man, and not in the complimentary manner that term is often used.  You are not supposed to like him.  You might be able to argue that some of the things presented in this movie are overkill, but that's a matter of personal taste.  It's enough, in the context of the film, that Dr. Schultz is playing along with Candie in order to achieve a larger goal, which requires a circuitous approach to the matter at hand.  It's clear that there is some judgment being made by the characters in the story that all of this is distasteful and not okay.

My second point is that if you're going to set a story, any story, in any given setting, then white-washing that setting is worse than lying.  If you want to be edgy and write a story set in a strip-club or something, all of the girls are not going to spend the entire film with their nipples covered.  One of my primary concerns with "Lincoln" was the soft-pedaling of tobacco.  "Django Unchained" is set in the south, before the American Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.  Tarantino is okay with writing this film with frank language, language that would have been used without a second thought in that place and that time.  If you, as a viewer are not okay with that, then don't go see the movie.  Understand that this is going to be an uncomfortable three hours, and it's better for you to stay at home than to ask filmmakers to bowdlerize material so that it's a lumpy, tasteless bowl of oatmeal for you to consume with no pesky flavors or aftertaste to worry about.

"Django Unchained" goes by fast, has memorable and spectacular scenes, and concludes excellently.  I fully understand if this isn't your cup of tea, but you've got to understand that Quentin Tarantino has been making movies for a couple of decades now, and probably doesn't give a flying fuck if you like what he does or not. That's one of the things that makes his films so interesting; he's making movies for himself, primarily.  If he's got a taste for genre trash, he's also got the ability to turn it into something that no one else can.  "Django" is more evidence for that case.

4.5 / 5 - Theatre

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dragon Eyes - 2012

"Dragon Eyes" - 2012
Dir. by John Hyams - 1 hr. 31 min.

Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It's not fair to dismiss a movie out of hand, without some perspective.  I feel obligated to judge a film on what it's trying to accomplish, and whether or not it did that rather than simply if it's as "good" as "Citizen Kane" or "Vertigo."  By the way, "Dragon Eyes" is not as good as either of those films.  But that's only half of what is relevant.  In this instance, we have a martial arts film, which rises and falls on it's action scenes, the build to those scenes, and the charisma and athletic ability of it's star or general cast.  There is probably no instance where this adds up to a classic five-star film; the finest examples in this genre are probably either Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" or Jackie Chan's "Drunken Master 2," and both are fun and very watchable, but only on the basis of individual performances.  As a "film," which I take to mean the complete package and product, those examples are fun, and watchable, but not excellent.

In "Dragon Eyes," as with many films in this genre, the story is a wire-hanger upon which excuses for combat scenes to progress from one to another.  Hong (Cung Le) is released from prison, where his cell-mate and mentor was Tiano (Jean-Claude Van Damme).  Hong shows up in a slum called St. Jude, where he immediately beats up and then infiltrates Mr. V's (Peter Weller) drug organization.  Plus, there's a girl, Rosanna (Crystal Mantecon).  And fighting!

Since the story is perfunctory, it's super-important that the star (or anyone, really) be someone that will command your attention on-screen.  Cung Le is a former mixed-martial arts fighter; a pretty spectacular athlete, but with all the magnetism of a loaf of bread.  This is something that might develop in him with some more acting experience, but when he's not kicking the crap out of gang-bangers, he's pretty stone-faced and not very gifted with body language.  There's also the odd decision to have him fighting frequently in a baggy long-sleeve shirt and slacks.  I'm not saying that Le is on Bruce Lee's level (particularly not in the acting realm), but imagine Lee's iconic fight scenes, but with him wearing a muumuu instead.  It just doesn't work; the way this film is set up, the entire thing hinges on Le's fights and charisma.  And that ultimately means that you're paying to watch Le physically move, and the amount of grace and explosiveness that he does so with.  And that means that whether or not audience members want to admit it, or are comfortable with that awareness (or whether Le and the filmmakers are comfortable with that sort of attention being paid), they're showing up to admire what Le can do with his body.  So covering him up, head to toe, and in a formless fashion, hampers the effectiveness of the fight scenes.  Le does go shirtless for a couple of scenes, so there isn't a cosmetic reason for this choice, but the whole thing is baffling.  If you're selling a film on the basis of Le's martial-arts prowess, the unexpected level of prudishness in Le's wardrobe is counterproductive.

There is one bright spot in this film (and probably the only thing that kept it watchable, despite it being a bit of a bait-and-switch); the mentor/student relationship between Hong and Tiano.  Van Damme is not really a co-star of this film (even though he was the only actor listed in the programming guide); he's in it for maybe ten minutes total (I didn't stop-watch it, that's a broad guess).  And if you tuned in because of Van Damme, and you know who Cung Le is, you know that you'd really like to see those two go at it.  That never happens, at least at full throttle, but there is a tantalizing scene of them sparring in prison that lasts probably less than a minute that also immediately let me know that I would actually plunk down cash money to watch those two fight in a film.  Watching Le kick nameless thugs is a short-lived thrill; I've seen Le in MMA fights, and I want to know what JCVD could do against him (or, in the context of a film, what kind of dance they could put together).  At least there's the short scene with them sparring, but the big fight "Dragon Eyes" builds to is against some big dork with cauliflower ears and with gold chains who doesn't really talk.  There's no real personality conflict between the two (partially because neither have much personality to begin with), and the action isn't spectacular enough on it's own merit to make it worth building to.

So, "Dragon Eyes" isn't a very good movie.  The movie punts on plot and characterization, and star Cung Le doesn't have enough personality to make it work on that basis, either.  The story doesn't bother to build up any of the people that he fights enough for the fights to matter (and he sure as hell isn't getting into a sanshou battle with Peter Weller, who dresses like a sunburned pimp here), and so it falls flat on that basis, too.  There's no real romance angle, even though the cute girl (Rosanna) is included in the story, so there's no real effort to humanize Hong, which would help rally viewers to his side.  If you're a big fan of Le, I could see checking this out (it's a short film), but if you're a Van Damme fan, you'll just leave frustrated.  I hope that star Le makes another film, but one that doesn't lean on whatever charisma he might have quite so heavily; his athletic gifts are worth watching, but a film that's built around him needs more than just that.

1 / 5 - TV

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Romy & Michele's High School Reunion - 1997

"Romy & Michele's High School Reunion" - 1997
Dir. by David Mirkin - 1 hr. 32 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Here we have the other high school reunion movie from 1997, "Romy & Michele's High School Reunion."  While "Grosse Pointe Blank" was a sly, aggressive, cool comedic take on the whole situation, "Romy" is the bonkers little sister of this family.  It's colorful, fun, a little flighty, and just wants people to like her (and to have some fun, as well).  And the journey of the main characters of this film has them learning that they have to learn to appreciate themselves first, and then other people will fall in line.

Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are in their twenties, have moved to Los Angeles from the desert, and enjoy clubbing.  You might say it's their natural habitat.  When Romy meets a surly former classmate, Heather (Janeane Garofalo) at her customer service job at a Jaguar dealership, she finds out that their ten-year reunion is imminent.  This sets off a self-improvement plan: diet, new boyfriends, better jobs.  And when that fails, they decided to pretend they're successful instead, claiming to have invented Post-Its, all in service of trying to woo the boys they had crushes on back in high school.

"Romy & Michele" is such a bizarre film, for about a million different reasons.  I guess it's a testament to the power of "Friends" in the 90's that a comedy got made then that starred two (well, three) women, and didn't really have any male actors that were names at that point (Alan Cumming and Justin Theroux have roles here, but that didn't mean much in 1997).  I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying that even a decade plus later, it's still a rarity.  But even more than that, what we've got here is a 1980's film made in the 1990's, and it's not really an exercise in nostalgia.  In a fairly drably-colored decade, this is a cotton-candy colored confection, filled with bubbly, light-hearted charm from the leads.  This is offset by some degree by the single best use of Janeane Garofalo in her film career, as a very grumpy lady.  She's described late in the film by Michele as "a big giant girl who smokes and says 'shit' a lot," which is a pretty perky way of putting it.

But even more than that, this is one of those films that exists in it's own bubble.  The quickest comparison I can come up with is "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," where the two lead characters' most important relationship is their friendship with each other, and their mutual ignorance of the weirdness of their surroundings somehow multiplies the weirdness itself.  But there's also an odd internal logic that works, even if the film seems all over the place.  There's a long dream sequence in the middle, a staple of these kinds of films, but it also serves to illustrate the point that even if both Romy and Michele end up with the men of their dreams, if they can't also remain friends, it's not worth the sacrifice.  In that respect, it very well represents the logic of early teenage girls, where friendships are intense and can go straight to hell once boys start to factor in (which is also sort of the Bill & Ted dynamic, observed from the other gender).

And this is a riotously funny movie, as well.  Even though Romy and Michele aren't very bright (or at least are amazingly superficial, but not in a malicious way), they are likable and not easily discouraged.  Everyone can understand their motivations and weaknesses; they want people to like them and think well of them, but they're completely befuddled by typical teenage pettiness and social-standing jockeying, which doesn't seem to cease even when people are out of their teens).  So when they decide that they need better jobs and some boyfriends in time for the reunion, them divvying up the duties makes sense to them.  Of course they need to show up in a better car than the Nova they normally drive (which leads to possibly the best exchange of dialogue in the film, where Romy jokingly tells Michele that she gave handjobs to the entire Jaguar service crew in exchange for the car, which Michele takes at face value, much to Romy's consternation), of course they decided to pretend to be businesswomen (although they don't actually know what they're supposed to be pretending to do, as illustrated by a great quick scene in a diner on the way to the reunion).  They're not con-men here, they're just trying to escape getting crushed by the A-list girls when they have to explain what they've been up to for the last ten years.

Both Sorvino and Kudrow are really good here, and this is my favorite role for Janeane Garofalo.  She's abrasive, but comically so, and it is set off by Sorvino and Kudrow's perkiness.  There's no end of great exchanges throughout the film; you could talk about the the dream sequence, the actual reunion, Michele going through job interviews and ending up at an outlet mall, or maybe the three-person dance set to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."  But there's a bit near the end that's almost as messed up as the all-time most messed-up moment of happiness in "Bad Santa."  Garofalo's character is bemoaning the fact that everyone made her miserable throughout high school, and that she never had the opportunity to make anyone else miserable, and that doesn't seem fair.  When she finds out that her constant, casual curse-filled telling off of Toby (Camryn Manheim) actually hurt her feelings, Heather is ecstatic, and her entire high school existence is redeemed.

"Romy & Michele's High School Reunion" is a bizarre, funny, awesome, strange movie.  The fact that it's tone and visual approach was so out of left-field contemporarily works in it's favor: those quirks that date a film (particularly comedies, where the visual approach is sometimes delivered on auto-pilot) are much less noticeable.  It's got a good concept, great execution, and the actresses that hold up most of the screen time really deliver.  They're all super-committed to what they're doing, and that holds up over time.  I remember enjoying this film from before, and actually might have liked it more this time around than the last time I watched it years ago.

3.5 / 5 - TV

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Tao of Steve - 2000

"The Tao of Steve" - 2000
Dir. by Jenniphr Goodman - 1 hr. 27 min.

Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

In the 1990's, before the internet was the depository for all kinds of DIY filmmaking, there was a boom of talky, frequently elliptical, low-budget indie films that came from people who didn't ordinarily get to direct feature films (or at least weren't interested in big budget explody nonsense).  You could track it back to the 1980's, if you want to include Steven Soderbergh's early work, or Richard Linklater's "Slacker": that's where the unbroken string of films in that vein began.  Jenniphr Goodman's "The Tao of Steve" is at the end of that string, having been released in 2000.  It bears a lot of similarities to other films in it's vein; unconventional lead actors (in the aesthetic sense, although it's definitely part of the plot here), lots of talk about big ideas from people who aren't necessarily doing big things (or slackers, as you might otherwise know them), and tortured love stories (possibly fall-out from a decade coping with the AIDS epidemic).  This is also a very sharply-written film with excellent performances from the leads, offering a lot of easy charm and heady talk.

Dex (Donal Logue) goes to his college reunion, where one of the points of emphasis is that he's packed on more than a couple pounds over the years.  Despite this, Dex is charming, underachieving, way too smart for his own good, and has unlikely success with beautiful women.  As is explained to one of his more inexperienced friends over the course of the film, Dex owes this success to his strategy for seducing women.  A "Steve" is the epitome of cool - Steve Austin or Steve McQueen.  In channeling these Steves, his three step method works like a charm.  And that's fine, until he sees a girl that he's interested in having more than a fling with, Syd (Greer Goodman).  Or maybe Syd inadvertently Steves Dex.  Either way, they end up having to share a truck when Dex's motorcycle breaks down, and Dex has to fight an uphill battle to get Syd's interest.

At one point in this film, Dex quotes Lao Tzu to Ed (John Hines), "When a foolish man hears of the Tao, he laughs out loud."  This is an appropriate quote for any film that deals with philosophical matters: the knee-jerk reaction to any discussion of philosophical matters in the arts seems to be to dismiss it as Philosophy 101 stoned musings.  And that's fine.  If you're the sort of person prone to that reaction, skip "The Tao of Steve."  There is wall-to-wall casual discussion on this topic (and on religion, a subject frequently intertwined with philosophy).  But if that's not you, the discussions serve to offer insight into the characters in the film.  So, you know, pay attention.  It's not a coincidence that pretty much the only time that Dex shuts up in the whole film is during a discussion with Syd about "Don Giovanni" and Kierkegaard, where Syd interprets Don Giovanni as being about a man sleeping with one-thousand women because was afraid of being rejected by one.  It's a relevant observation, particular considering Dex's womanizing, particularly from the woman that Dex is pursuing.  In the context of this film, the literary and philosophical references are presented not only to offer deeper insight into the characters that we're watching, they're also there for the characters to react to when they're painfully relevant to their lives.

In terms of the story itself, it's a low-key relationship film.  It's a romantic comedy that you won't hate yourself for watching when you're done.  Dex's pursuit of Syd doesn't go as smoothly as he'd like (for spoiler reasons - the reveal sure doesn't make Dex come off like a good guy), and even after they take steps toward one another, Dex's history keeps rearing it's ugly head.  It's easy to want to root for Dex; Donal Logue gives off an easy charm (there's no other way to put it) via intelligent patter and not taking himself as seriously as you might expect a serious philosophical guy to be.  Anything less and you'd want to kill the guy by about an hour in; between his womanizing, loose grasp of time, and looser grasp of the truth, he's written nearly as a psychopathic conman.  At least that's how it would come off acted differently.  And it helps that Syd is both intelligent and not a push-over, and that Greer Goodman is able to hold her own here.  Syd is smart, capable, and unconventionally beautiful, and can hold her own in the intellectual conversations that Dex usually uses to dazzle more "weak-minded women," as he admits.  The film doesn't exactly address it, but Syd kinds pulls a Steve on Dex, which might be part of her appeal.  As he quotes, "we pursue that which retreats from us."

I really dig "The Tao of Steve."  I've watched it a number of times, and it holds up well.  If I was making a short-list of 90's indie films (yes, I know it came out in 2000, but I'm referring to the style), "Tao" would make that list every time.  The actors have chemistry, the writing's dead-on and very smart, and I even enjoy the use of the southwest as a setting - it's effective and beautiful in transition shots, and even is just presented for it's own beauty at times.  The only disappointment is that director Jenniphr Goodman seems not to have done another film in the passing years (this was her first film).  If this is the only film she ever does, it's a good one, and she's one-for-one.

4 / 5 - DVD

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka - 1988

"I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" - 1988
Dir. by Keenan Ivory Wayans - 1 hr. 28 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Even though I've seen (and enjoyed) "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" before, I was prepared to hate it this time around.  Why is that?  Maybe it's because of the "Scary Movie" franchise, maybe I just figured the humor hadn't aged particularly well.  Or maybe it's because writer/director/star Keenan Ivory Wayans has all but disappeared as an actor over the last decade or so.  Also, probably because I liked "Black Dynamite" so much, and feel that it probably mined this same territory a bit better (and a bit cleverer).  But dagnabit, "Sucka" ended up winning me over again.

Jack Spade (Wayans) returns home from the military when he finds out his brother has OG'd (over gold - death by too many dookie chains).  Mother Ma Bell (Ja'Net DuBois) and widow Cheryl (Dawnn Lewis) are grieving, and to top that are being threatened by a pair of Mr. Big's thugs (Damon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison) over a debt Slade's brother owed.  Jack decides that something must be done about this, and tracks down a retired black hero, John Slade (Bernie Casey) to take on Mr. Big (John Vernon).  John brings in his crew, Hammer (Isaac Hayes), Slammer (Jim Brown), and Kung-Fu Joe (Steve James), and they start things by making business more difficult for Big.

There are reasons to admire what Wayans is doing here, but I'll get to that later.  None of that matters if you create a bad, unfunny, unwatchable movie, which certainly isn't the case.  It's possible that a lot of people have never seen Keenan Ivory Wayans in front of a camera, so I'd describe his humor as what would happen if you mashed together Richard Pryor (in terms of physical acting) with the "Airplane!" crew.  The plot here is mainly a coat-hanger on which Wayans can spin asides and random jokes off of.  Unfortunately, the first act of the film isn't very funny (there's a lot of establishing going on, at the expense of the humor), but when "Sucka" takes off, it takes off.  For me, what broke the dam was a short interview between a news reporter played by David Alan Grier, where he was interviewing John Slade.  Slade mentions something about the streets, and DAG starts talking about how he wasn't raised around black folks, and ends up doing a "Dancing in the Dark" Springsteen dance.

And the scene that kept me rolling in laughter was where Ma Bell dresses down Jack in front of Cheryl, whom he's trying to impress.  Jack decides to right a couple of childhood wrongs involving a woman and a family of midgets in desperation.  When Cheryl asks him what that would prove, Jack says, "It proves I can beat a woman and a family of midgets!"  Baby steps, Jack, baby steps.  This style of humor has been seen in the films with the younger members of the Wayans brothers (Keenan's had his hands in a lot of those movies behind the camera), and describing the jokes that come would probably take longer than it would just to watch the scenes in question.  But the details do accumulate, jab after jab, and add up to a pretty funny movie.  By the time you see Flyguy's aquarium platforms or the bar that requires ridiculously over-sized hats (in which gun-wielding midgets hide), you'll probably have already been chuckling for twenty minutes straight.

As for why this is probably a fairly important film, take a look around 1988 and see how many other black directors were working in any capacity.  Wayans pulled off the trifecta here, writing, directing, and starring in his own film.  Just going down the cast, you can see some of the actors who worked on "In Living Color" show up in smaller roles; David Alan Grier, a ton of Wayans' siblings, even Chris Rock pops up in one of his earliest film appearances to buy a rib and get some soda poured into his hand.  And going backwards, getting Huggy Bear, Shaft, and Jim Brown to be in your film parodying blacksploitation films is no mean feat. It's basically Pam Grier away from having everyone you could think of from that genre featured.  Part of this is the fragmented nature of Wayan's humor, but watching "Sucka," you're going to see a lot of familiar faces.

"I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" isn't a great movie, but it's a good one.  It's kind of an outlier; people that were big before and people who would end up being big are present, and Wayans built a career off of this sort of thing with "In Living Color" and the first two "Scary Movie" films, but looking back, it's hard to believe that it got made at all.  The material that it was parodying was basically fifteen to twenty years old at the time; it would be like trying to get someone to pay for a bunch of comedians to make a "Pulp Fiction" or "Forrest Gump" parody today, except only if "Pulp Fiction" or "Gump" hadn't really made much money to begin with. Maybe the cultural life-span is different now, but you'd be taking on material that isn't old enough to be considered "classic," and isn't current enough for teenagers to have any familiarity with.  All I can guess is that someone thought Wayans was funny (which he is), and that the three million dollar budget would be inconsequential in the long run (it quadrupled that in it's theatrical run).  The result is an odd artifact; the somewhat unknown beginnings of the Wayans brothers comedy career.

3 / 5 - TV