'Fifty Shades of Black': Film Review

Courtesy of Open Road Films
'Fifty Shades of Grey' was actually funnier.
1/29/2016

Marlon Wayans takes a break from his 'Haunted House' series to co-write and star in this spoof of the movie adaptation of E.L. James' erotic novel.

Making a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey should have been like shooting fish in a barrel. After all, the original book (not that I've read it, although I wouldn't admit it if I had) and screen adaptation themselves played like elaborate spoofs of the erotic fiction genre with the tale of an innocent college girl seduced by a sadomasochistic-minded, handsome billionaire. But that hasn't stopped Marlon Wayans — who's run his horror movie spoofs into the ground with the Scary Movie and Haunted House franchises — from trying. The result, 50 Shades of Black, is predictably dismal.

Hewing extremely closely to the plot of the original film but, you know, making it black, the film plays like a feature-length Saturday Night Live parody, and it's about as deadly as that sounds. Wayans, who also co-scripted the movie, plays Christian Black, who even though he's obscenely rich still takes the time to steal a woman's purse during an evening jog. Kali Hawk plays the awkward student Hannah, who gets the assignment to interview Christian for her college paper after her randy roommate (Jenny Zigrino, channeling Rebel Wilson) drops out because of painful bout of chlamydia.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the extremely raunchy jokes revolve around sex, with probably a good portion of the film's budget spent on prosthetic penises — Christian's is tiny, while his brother Weekday's (Affion Crockett, sporting The Weeknd-style locks) is so enormous that it drags on the floor — and prosthetic testicles (Christian's are grotesquely huge, as seen when he exposes them to Hannah while complaining about his blue balls.

When Christian first removes Hannah's panties he practically passes out, and after he hurriedly throws them across the room they stick to the wall. But the gags are parceled out fairly: in a Magic Mike-inspired flashback to Christian's former life as a male stripper, the underwear he removes and throws to the excited female onlookers is covered in feces.

These jokes may not sound funny as related here, but be assured that they're no more amusing onscreen. The audience at an opening night theater screening emitted barely a chuckle, resulting in a lot of dead air when the film paused for laughs that weren't there.

As to be expected, there are plenty of pop culture references, with jokes about Wesley Snipes, Bill Cosby, Kevin Hart and Cuba Gooding Jr. among many others (it was probably too late to insert one about #OscarsSoWhite). There's an extended riff on the film Whiplash, of all things, with Florence Henderson sacrificing her dignity in an extended comic sex scene in which she plays the older woman who helps Christian lose his virginity while spewing out an abusive stream of expletives. Is it funny to see Mrs. Brady talking dirty? Not really.

Nor is it funny to see Jane Seymour as Christian's racist white mother who casually tasers Hannah upon their first meeting ("Black lives matter, mom!" protests Christian) and who serves the couple fried chicken and Kool-Aid for dinner.

By sheer dint of frequency, some jokes land, such as when Christian chooses a whip from his extensive collection inspired by such movies as Django: Unchained, Glory and 12 Years a Slave. But the funniest bit involves a particularly sadistic brand of torture that he inflicts on Hannah: reading aloud to her from the book Fifty Shades of Grey. She quite rightly screams in protest, as should anyone forced to watch this movie.

Production: IM Global, Baby Way Productions

Distributor: Open Road Films

Cast: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Jenny Zigrino, Affion Crockett, Jane Seymour, Andrew Bachelor, Florence Henderson, Mike Epps, Fred Willard, Kate Miner

Director: Michael Tiddes

Screenwriters/producers: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarrez

Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Matt Jackson, Glendon Palme, Paddy Cullen, Steven Squillante

Director of photography: David Ortkiese

Production designer: Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini

Editor: Lawrence Jordan

Costume designer: Ariyela Wald-Cohain

Composer: Jim Dooley

Rated R, 92 min.

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