Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Evil Dud: "Hell Baby" conjures up silliness aplenty, no good laughs

Hell Baby (2013)
98 min., rated R.

Absurdly silly demonic-possession comedy "Hell Baby" can be as lowbrow as it wants to be, but it's just astonishing how flat-out unfunny it manages to be most of the time. TV's "Reno 911" co-creators and co-stars Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon take the kid gloves off, having co-penned family-friendly fare like "The Pacifier," "Herbie Fully Loaded," and the "Night at the Museum" movies, for their joint directorial debut. Garant helmed the 2007 feature-length movie expansion, "Reno 911!: Miami," and while it added up to a pretty scattershot affair, at least there were some real laughs to be had. A year with two abysmal horror spoofs like "A Haunted House" and "Scary Movie 5" seems like a hell in itself, and, since three is a trend, "Hell Baby" is an additional blunder. 

Good sports Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb play it straight and put on game faces as white New Orleans couple Jack and Vanessa, who's very pregnant and expecting twins. Having no clue the ramshackle ghetto house they've just moved into is known as the "House of Blood" because it kills people, the couple finds out the hard way when Vanessa starts smoking, drinking wine, and drinking paint thinner, fetus be damned. She must be possessed and carrying the Devil's spawn. Before you know it, two cops (Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer) are investigating a murder and the overall strange goings-on. Then the Vatican gets a call and sends out two unconventional exorcists (Garant, Lennon).

Not really a spoof and barely qualifying as a comedy, "Hell Baby" should have been a scrappy, wonderfully weird low-budget lark, inspired and smartly goofy, but it doesn't have a lick of wit. This desperate, substandard cheapie is the result of funny people not knowing better. Lennon can be a stitch when the material is right, but the running joke of a Vatican priest chain-smoking and later hitting up a strip club is never funny the first time. Comedian Keegan-Michael Key has his moments as F'Resnel, a squatting, Kramer-like neighbor who keeps popping up in the protagonists' house, giving Jack a fright every time. Riki Lindhome shows an untapped loopy side as Vanessa's earthy sister Marjorie and gets to add full-frontal nudity to the R-rating in a shower scene. Did anyone in the cast actually break into laughter while shooting?

There's precisely one chuckle with a cable installer's van and a ridiculous hot-potato game with a healthy baby and a devil baby. Otherwise, the rest is strained and lame. There's a go-nowhere joke with a monstrously saggy-skinned old lady crawling into bed with Jack to pleasure him under the sheets; several detours to the local po-boy joint; a stale attempt to deconstruct the haunted-house subgenre very briefly with the line, "This is like in the movies when insane shit happens and they still don't leave!"; and all the lunacy culminates in a blood-spurting battle with the devilish squirt. Over the course of 98 minutes, "Hell Baby" does have an over-the-top, overly stupid spirit about itself, but this is lazy, low-rent, virtually laugh-free stuff. That's just deadly in a comedy.


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