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Movie Review : Wayans Brothers N the Hood: Subversive Meets Bad Taste

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The early cliche in the ‘hood movies was that the young African American men who had a chance of making something of themselves and escaping their violent roots were the ones who routinely were gunned down. Eventually, of course, it got to the point where just about everyone who stepped in front of the camera got smoked, followed of course by mothers and girlfriends getting down on their knees, hovering over the bodies of their fallen angels or warriors and wailing long and loud over their loss.

In “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood,” Shawn and Marlon Wayans are able, but only occasionally, to make such grim reality hilarious.

“Don’t Be Etc.” most closely follows John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood,” no doubt because that’s the best known of the genre, followed by the Hughes brothers’ “Menace II Society,” with passing references to “Dead Presidents,” “Higher Learning,” “Poetic Justice” and other blandly self-important and interchangeable dramas.

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Parts of the movie (which wasn’t screened until Thursday night) feature some of the most subversive humor seen in a mainstream movie in a while--gallows humor that scathingly mocks gangsta behavior and fashion, black distrust of whites and the earnest and calculating filmmakers who get rich depicting mayhem that veers uneasily between cautionary and cathartic. The rest, alas, is pure junk.

Shawn and Marlon Wayans, lower-profile members of the expansive Wayans entertainment family, star as Ashtray and Loc Dog and wrote the script with Phil Beauman; big brother Keenen Ivory Wayans produced and appears briefly. Director Paris Barclay, who has some music videos under his belt, presumably did work of some sort involving the camera and setting up shots.

Not that it shows. These guys would be accused of utterly incompetent storytelling if in fact there were a story somewhere in this movie.

As a collection of sketches, however, it has some inspired moments that drag you through the patchier spots: Ashtray’s pop teaches his son some terrible lessons concerning drinking and driving (as fast as you can!), working for The Man (hey, welfare is free money!) and using condoms (who needs ‘em?). Some cagey production design fills the backgrounds of scenes with clever details (a fried chicken and auto lube franchise, a convenience store hawking nothing but guns and beer). John Barnes’ music apes blaxploitation scores, pausing only to go excessively treacly when someone has a ponderous message to impart.

As for the brothers, Shawn and Marlon’s work in this movie offers a study in sharp contrasts. Shawn’s scenes can have some bite and wit to them--he’s obviously more acutely aware of the genre he’s dumping on--while Marlon’s content just to get laughs by wackily scrunching up his face and draping himself in zany props.

It’ll be interesting to see if audiences at this time in American culture will rally behind the film’s gleefully politically incorrect bravado. Let’s just say there might be better ways to observe the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong language, sexuality, some drug content and violence. Times guidelines: all of the above and frequent use of the Mark Fuhrman racial epithet, all for comedic effect.

‘Don’t Be a Menace

to South Central

While Drinking Your

Juice in the Hood’

Shawn Wayans Ashtray

Marlon Wayans Loc Dog

Tracey Cherelle Jones Dashiki

Chris Spencer Preach

Island Pictures presents an Ivory Way production, released by Miramax Films. Director Paris Barclay. Producer Keenen Ivory Wayans, Eric Gold. Executive producer Mark Burg, Dan Genetti. Screenplay by Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Phil Beauman. Cinematographer Russ Brandt. Editor William Young, Marshall Harvey. Costumes Valari Adams. Music John Barnes. Production design Aaron Osborne. Art director Reiko Kobayashi. Set decorator Jeanne Lusignan. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.


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