The comic stylings of actor/stand-up Eddie Griffin are recorded for bigscreen posterity in “Eddie Griffin: Dysfunktional Family,” a crude and crudely made hybrid that combines performance footage of Griffin (shot in his hometown of Kansas City) with docu segments showing the comic at home with family and friends. The attempt to draw certain connections between Griffin’s material and its autobiographical origins is feels slapped together, shortchanging both aspects of the film. While the talented Griffin is not undeserving of his own movie vehicle, this one feels more like a favor owed than a truly worthy project. Returns should be minor for this Dimension entry, which lacks any of the crossover potential of “The Original Kings of Comedy” or Martin Lawrence’s live pics.
Griffin (who acted in such films as “Deuce Bigalow” and “Undercover Brother”) has a live-wire ferocity that makes his live performance captivating from the start, even when his material is decidedly second-rate. Trekking through familiar race-relations turf better covered by the likes of Redd Foxx and George Wallace, Griffin too often seems to be playing to his audience rather than challenging it. But he eventually hits his stride, with a series of routines — about why Jesus was black, the differences between men and women, the vagaries of oral sex — that are smart, nasty and very funny. He also does a savage Michael Jackson impersonation.
So it’s distressing that director George Gallo (who previously helmed Griffin in the little-seen “Double Take”) seems intent upon undercutting Griffin’s delivery. With a roving, craning camera (the cinematography is credited to Theo Van De Sande) that often seems more interested in the architecture of the theater than in the comic’s performance, and a nervous cutting style, pic never allows Griffin to really draw us into his energy in the same way as the audience watching him live in the theater can.
It’s obvious they didn’t set out to make a conventional, straightforward performance film. But the success of such now-classic comedy-concert pics as “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert” and “Bill Cosby, Himself” rested in their makers’ ability to find a naturalistic way of documenting their subjects, keeping the cinema audience alert without calling undue attention to the cinema process. In trying to reinvent the stylistic wheel, this film never gets rolling. Also, unlike Miramax’s own recent Jerry Seinfeld docu “Comedian,” “Dysfunktional Family” finds few compelling reasons for its forays into Griffin’s personal life. While there are amusing moments to be mined there (among them, an introduction to Griffin’s porn-addicted uncle), the diversions are too frequent and cover almost no ground that already isn’t covered in better, funnier detail by Griffin’s act.