The devil knows there’s much to spoof in that genre, a playground of many first-time filmmakers with no-name casts and cheapo effects. So the filmmakers’ instincts are right but their aim often lacks sophistication and smarts.
This spoof tackles no single franchise or film but rather sets its sights on the haunted house/demonic possession sub-genre. Things begin when a pregnant white couple, Jack (Rob Corddry) and Vanessa (Leslie Bibb), buy a New Orleans fixer-upper in a predominantly black neighborhood (more could have been made of this).
Every local knows as the spooky structure as either the “House of Blood” or just that “scary old house” down the street. Yet the couple is assured that the epidemic of multiple murders in the house has subsided — at least none since the first of the year … well, give or take …
The first of many running gags, and by far the most successful, concerns a “neighbor,” F’resnel (Keegan-Michael Key, easily the best actor in this movie), who abruptly appears in and around the house at every inopportune moment. He has all the trappings, in fact, of a squatter and later allows that perhaps he does spend considerable time in the crawl space.
F’resnel becomes the locus for much of the information regarding the haunted manse plus the comedy. His appearances in fact are always startling, at least to Jack, and so many other people and objects do likewise to him — spoofing those red-herring starts featured in many mediocre scare movies — that finally Jack roars in frustration: “I am so sick of being startled!”
Alas, not all gags are as funny. There is a “ghost dog” — this is known since for years no one has seen any poop anywhere, ergo, it must be from another dimension — a hideous, libidinous and nearly nude old lady (actually one Alex Berg in a bad rubber suit), two hopelessly inept cops (Rob Huebbel and Paul Scheer) and clear evidence that Vanessa, eight-months pregnant, is possessed.
The writer-directors appear as a pair of chain-smoking, alcohol-loving Vatican priests dispensed to de-demonize the house. They’re in no hurry though since they take detours to the French Quarter and a po-boy joint before getting down to business.
They quickly wear out the welcome, however, since their gag-filled bits never go anywhere — and certainly not to the the haunted house. Ditto that for many other running gags including the horny old lady.
Riki Lindhome as Vanessa’s “spiritual,” hippie sister has an eye-popping full-frontal nude scene that lasts quite a while as she climbs out of a shower — no hint of how she may have gotten there — to chat with a befuddled Jack.
All of which fits in with Garant & Lennon’s background on “Reno 911!” It’s a pile on of jokes and gags both visual and verbal and they’ll let the audience sort out which ones they like.
Sometimes you would like for the filmmakers to take some responsibility in this area. You know, vetting the jokes in some way so that only the better ones survive.
Opens: September 6, 2013; VOD July 25 (Millennium Entertainment)
Production companies: A Darko Entertainment/Principato-Young Entertainment production
Cast: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan-Michael Key, Riki Lindhome, Michael Ian Black, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
Directors/screenwriters: Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon
Producers: Paul Young, Peter Principato, Sean McKittrick, Jeff Culotta
Executive producers: Edward “Ted” Hamm Jr., David Lincoln, John D. Lynch
Director of photography: Charles Papert
Production designer: Nate Jones
Music: Michael Farrell
Costume designer: Shauna Leone
Editor: Kevin Oeser
R rating, 95 minutes