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With the Scary Movie franchise, the Wayans brothers tapped into a lucrative vein of lowbrow humor parodying popular horror releases. Marlon Wayans attempted to extend that run with 2013’s A Haunted House, which tanked with critics but paid off nicely at the box office. While critical response is likely to be replicated on the sequel, a $40 million gross may not be, given the film’s tapped-out formula and lack of differentiation from the original.
A year after his ex-girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins), possessed by a tenacious demon, gets summarily dispatched, Malcolm (Wayans) prepares to move in with new girlfriend Megan (Jaime Pressly) and her kids Becky (Ashley Rickards) and Wyatt (Steele Stebbins). Next-door neighbor Miguel (Gabriel Iglesias) appears relieved that the house is occupied again, but by examining footage from his extensive network of in-home video cameras, Malcolm soon discovers that it was never fully vacated, after Becky finds a mysterious wooden box in the basement and Megan retrieves a creepy-looking doll in a 19th century dress from an old wardrobe. Meanwhile, Wyatt starts developing a fixation on an invisible friend named “Tony,” who proves highly disapproving of Malcolm.
Perhaps that sentiment isn’t entirely misplaced, as Malcolm becomes inexplicably attracted to the unusual doll called Abigail, indulging in a marathon of nasty, clandestine sex before calmly explaining to her that he’ll have to end their relationship, since he has a girlfriend already. Abigail’s not having it, however, stubbornly returning after Malcolm attempts to banish her from the house. Then there’s the strange box, which seems to be taking possession of Becky, and the home movies that Malcolm discovers, featuring some type of hapless demon randomly preying upon the former homeowners.
With this basic set of factors in play, Wayans and co-screenwriter Rick Alvarez simply push “repeat” — repeatedly. The same gags, similar jokes and slavishly derivative situations keep cycling until Megan and Malcolm decide it’s time to call in the demon-exterminating experts to cleanse their haunted home, including Malcolm’s gun-toting, foul-mouthed priestly acquaintance Father Williams (Cedric the Entertainer) and a paranormal investigative couple (Hayes MacArthur, Missi Pyle), who spend more time bickering than banishing the spirit that’s now possessed Becky. And she’s not the only one in need of exorcism — Kisha’s back, too, and she’s mad as hell at Malcolm.
If it all seems hopelessly confusing, no need to worry — just refer to the movies that Wayans, Alvarez and returning director Michael Tiddes continue spoofing, with diminishing returns. Paranormal Activity, particularly the fourth installment, again figures prominently among their targets, augmented by frequent references to 2013’s The Conjuring, which makes for somewhat more creative satire, perhaps due to the latter’s higher incidence of originality.
All of the charges leveled against A Haunted House can be repeated regarding the sequel, with the added observation that repeating the same formula works best for those with the least imagination — a sizeable group judging by public response to the original. Wayans’ performance again relies primarily on mugging it up and outrageous attempts at self-indulgent humor to elicit laughs, topped with copious doses of raunchy sexual innuendo and activity.
The outcome is usually fairly tiresome, but on occasion reaches levels of moderate originality, as in an extended sequence involving the miscalculated “blood sacrifice” of a live rooster, with Iglesias effectively instigating the attendant mayhem. Pressly doesn’t get much of a chance to break out of scolding-spouse mode, although Rickards and Stebbins as her demon-afflicted kids manage decent variations on familiar characters. Cedric the Entertainer’s appearance is perhaps the most strained, particularly in a motor-mouthed monologue as the misguided priest.
Tiddes faces few challenges indulging Wayans’ slapstick proclivities or replicating the Paranormal Activity–style found-footage aesthetic and multiple-camera setups, which editor Tim Mirkovich cuts together with alacrity, if not a great deal of creativity.
Opens: April 17 (Open Road Films)
Production: Automatik Entertainment, Baby Way Productions
Cast: Marlon Wayans, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins, Gabriel Iglesias, Ashley Rickards, Affion Crockett, Steele Stebbins, Cedric the Entertainer, Missi Pyle, Hayes MacArthur
Director: Michael Tiddes
Screenwriters-producers: Rick Alvarez, Marlon Wayans
Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Todd King, Steven Squillante
Director of photography: David Ortkiese
Production designer: Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini
Costume designer: Ariyela Wald-Cohain
Music: Jesse Voccia
Editor: Tim Mirkovich
Rated R, 87 minutes
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