Lame "Haunted House" deserves an exorcism

A Haunted House (2013) 
86 min., rated R.

Comedy is a fragile business, especially when it's shattered to pieces. "A Haunted House" trumps all of the toxic, brain-dead Jason Friedberg-Aaron Seltzer abortions ("Date Movie," "Epic Movie," "Meet the Spartans," "Disaster Movie," "Vampires Suck"), which are still to this day playing on a loop in the fiery pits of Hell, but not by much. Star and co-writer Marlon Wayans has had some practice in skewering popular genres, predominantly the horror genre with the aughts' first two "Scary Movie" spoofs and then "Dance Flick." Too bad his latest brainchild, a spoof that takes comedic aim at the found-footage supernatural horror sub-genre, doesn't have the smarts to know how stupid it is.

As in "Paranormal Activity," it all starts with a happy couple and a video camera that documents "unexplainable events." Filming everything here on out, Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) is excited to move his girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) in to live with him. But before she even steps out of her car, Kisha runs over Malcolm's dog. During their first night together, he has an orgy with stuffed animals (just don't ask) before she comes to bed, and then in the middle of the night, Kisha lets out some noisy, stinky flatulence (love that first pop of the blanket but not the several that follow). By morning, her keys have fallen off the kitchen counter, so that must mean there's a ghost that needs to be busted! And the moral of this cautionary tale is that men should never ever live with their girlfriends because they don't cook or clean and might have made a deal with the Devil in the past for a pair of Louis Vuitton stilettos.

For a silly movie that should be filled to the gills with rapid-fire jokes and sight gags, "A Haunted House" is quite the dead zone, with enough mud being thrown at the wall and none of it funny enough to stick. Marlon Wayans, co-writer Rick Alvarez, and director Michael Tiddes seem to think that goofing on a once-creepy set-piece"The Last Exorcism" and "The Devil Inside" are among the easy targets—with desperate, lowest-common-denominator humor, whether it be racist, sexist, homophobic, scatological, or drug-related, is more than enough. But there's barely a movie here, just a formless series of bits that test one's patience and usually lack timing and a punchline. 

There's nothing wrong with the particular movies being aped, but it seems like Wayans needed a little help from his brothers on the script, as did Tiddes on the clunky execution. First, we'll get the few exceptions out of the way. In one incidentally amusing bit, in which Malcolm and Kisha face some real bedroom spooks and he screams fleeing out of the house and packing up a moving truck, it's like a reenactment of what Eddie Murphy would've done, based on his 1983 joke about white folk never leaving a haunted house in movies. One more chuckle-inducing moment involves Malcolm mounting the camera onto the base of an oscillating fan, à la "Paranormal Activity 3," only to reveal some shocking business with the housekeeper Rosa (Marlene Forte) when she's home alone. Of course, this bit lasts a minute in what's otherwise an 86-minute feature. There's also a beguilingly lame riff on "Paranormal Activity" when Kisha awakens at night. The rest is flat and ugly: Malcolm is raped (or, "altar boyed" as his girlfriend calls it) by the well-endowed ghost; 1988 footage flashes back to when a young Kisha was abused by her father's belt; and an eventually possessed Kisha is body-slammed and beaten up with chairs. Are you busting a gut yet? Frankly, the makers' "idea" of putting a funny, clever spin on something wouldn't pass muster on a MADtv sketch. 

Wayans and Atkins, both likable and talented comedians, pour a lot of what-the-hell enthusiasm into their roles, but obnoxious mugging takes over. Adding insult to injury, Nick Swardson plays a psychic named Chip, who's gay because he has swishy mannerisms and an earring in one ear. He's called upon to investigate the house's "dark energy," but touches Malcolm every chance he gets. Isn't "gay panic" hilarious? David Koechner's every appearance as a racist security expert equates to fingernails on a chalkboard, and Cedric the Entertainer, as an unconventional jailhouse priest, is made to look foolish. Only Alanna Ubach, who can be a scream with merely a facial expression, snags a handful of laughs as Kisha's swinger friend. Lazy, boring, witless, grating, and slipshod, "A Haunted House" is like watching a dead horse being beaten. It isn't quite the nadir of parody as we know it"Scary Movie 5" arrives in April and the Friedberg-Seltzer hack-team is working on "The Starving Games," a spoof of, that's right, "The Hunger Games"but if you're in the youth market that will pay $11.50 to sit in a theater and play on their cell phones, then disregard everything above and enjoy this steaming pile.

Grade: D -