Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review: "Don't Be a Menace" Says "Negro, Please" to Hood Movies

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 18 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)
Running time: 89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language, sexuality, some drug content and violence
DIRECTOR: Paris Barclay
WRITERS: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Phil Beauman
PRODUCERS: Eric L. Gold and Keenen Ivory Wayans
EDITORS: Marshall Harvey and William Young


Starring: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Tracey Cherelle Jones, Chris Spencer, Suli McCullough, Darrel Heath, Helen Martin, Lahmard J. Tate, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Kim Wayans, Vivica A. Fox, Omar Epps, Faizon Love, Bernie Mac, Antonio Fargas, LaWanda Page, and Damien Dante Wayans

The early 1990s saw a torrent of gritty urban movies, with the Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood being the best known. The Wayans family of comedians and comic actors, best known for the FOX Network sketch comedy series, In Living Colour, spoofed the black coming-of-age, growing-up-in-the-hood movies with the 1996 film, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

The film follows the naïve, virginal Ashtray (Shawn Wayans), a young man sent to live in South Central Los Angeles with his father (Lahmard J. Tate), who seems to be no older than Ashtray. Ashtray falls in with his gang-banging cousin, the psychotic Loc Dog (Marlon Wayans). Ashtray gets an education in life on the streets from Loc Dog and his friends, the politically conscious Preach (Chris Spencer) and the wheel-chair bound Crazy Legs (Suli McCullough). After falling in love with Dashiki (Tracey Cherelle Jones), a young woman who has seven children by seven different men, Ashtray has to choose between the straight life and life in the inner city with Loc Dog.

Like the Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood spoofs a genre associated with African-Americans. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka was a send-up of 1970s blaxploitation movies, but Sucka was a love letter to black exploitation films like the Shaft franchise.

Don’t Be a Menace, however, attacks the genre it spoofs. This movie’s three writers, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Phil Beauman, mine urban flicks such as Friday, Dead Presidents, and Juice, but especially Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society to launch an all-out assault against “hood” films. Their self-important attitudes, reliance on violence and the worst aspects of black poverty to entertain, and their self-pitying messages to the broader society are all fodder for the Wayans’ brand of savage satire and mean-spirited parody.

Don’t Be a Menace also goes after black pop culture, especially low-brow entertainment, prison-inspired fashion, and the glorification of violence, promiscuous sex, and drug and alcohol abuse. Even certain aspects of African-American culture, politics, and religion get a swift kick from the Wayans. Pompous preachers, hypocritical Black separatists, and assorted sectarians are mocked. Everything moves to a soundtrack filled with the same kind of raunchy R&B, hip-hop, and rap that fills the soundtracks of straight urban movies.

The performances are good, with Tracey Cherelle Jones, Chris Spencer, and Suli McCullough managing to shine in what is really a Wayans fest. Don’t Be a Menace was the first time Shawn Wayans really got to show what he does best – play the straight man with deadpan perfection, while still showing his ability to be crazy when he has to be. Marlon Wayans, a brilliant physical comedian and gifted comic actor, comes close to owning this movie. I don’t know if he is just fearless or shameless, but Marlon is good.

That’s why it is a shame that Don’t Be a Menace, in spite of some really funny set pieces and some truly inspired dialogue, largely feels flat. It is as if Paris Barclay’s script and the screenplay are not on the same page. There are moments when everything comes together and delivers comedy gold, but that doesn’t happen often enough to make this movie truly great as it should be. Back in 1996, we needed Don’t Be a Menace as an antidote or counter to a rash of hood movies, and it was good enough at what it did that the film’s spoofing is still sharp.

7 of 10

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


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