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Film Review: ‘A Haunted House 2’

Marlon Wayans' parody sequel is as inept and puerile as its predecessor, but let no one say its screenwriter and star doesn't give it his all.

With:
Marlon Wayans, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabriel Iglesias, Missi Pyle, Ashley Rickards, Affion Crockett, Steele Stebbins, Hayes MacArthur.

It’s not that the Marlon Wayans horror spoof “A Haunted House 2” isn’t stupid. It is, incredibly so, as well as technically inept, damn near plotless, and mired in humor so puerile, ugly and regressive that this critic witnessed a gaggle of preteen theater-hoppers groan with exasperation at several of the running sex jokes. And yet, there’s a certain tragically admirable level of commitment from the cast, particularly the dignity-averse Wayans, that at least lifts it above the parody-movie nadir set by Date Movie/Epic Movie auteurs Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. It’s certainly likely to be among the worst movies in wide release this year, but it’s far from the most hateable, and that should count for something.

A sequel to last year’s “A Haunted House,” which grossed $40 million even though it appeared to have been financed with change collected from a shopping mall fountain, this sequel finds protagonist Malcolm (Wayans, who also co-scripted with Rick Alvarez) moving into a brand-new home with brand-new girlfriend Megan (Jaime Pressly) and her two children (Ashley Rickards, Steele Stebbins). Theoretically staged as a found-footage exercise, though frequently opting for standard shots with no appreciable increase in quality, the film traces Malcolm’s growing realization that his new house is, indeed, haunted.

Although there are obvious elements imported from recent horror pics like “Insidious,” “The Possession” and “The Conjuring,” it’s hard to really call “A Haunted House 2” a parody. Parodies generally tend to riff on and comment upon the films and genres they’re sending up, while this effort simply uses them as a loose framework on which to hang a rapid-fire barrage of manic, heavily improvised setpieces. Long sequences of Wayans battling a chicken, slapping at moths or engaging in extremely pornographic coitus with a porcelain doll make the Three Stooges look like Jane Austen, but at least they provide some lizard-brain respite from the scripted dialogue, which mines most of its punchlines from racial stereotypes, sex and — with disquieting frequency — domestic and animal abuse.

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This is, in other words, truly a bottom-feeding piece of work, but it’s hard not to be fascinated by Wayans’ sincere lack of self-consciousness as he hurls himself across the set naked, spittle dribbling from his mouth, screaming and maintaining a constant patter of off-the-cuff babble with the camera inches from his face. Most top-billed actors, even lowbrow comedic ones, would have betrayed hints of reluctance or shame at some point, but Wayans’ commitment is total, almost to the degree of a performance artist. His ceaseless energy gives “A Haunted House 2” a weird sort of integrity: If nothing else, Wayans and director Michael Tiddes appear to have made exactly the movie they wanted to make, with no pretense to anything more. Whether they should have bothered is perhaps a matter of taste.

Appearing in small roles, Cedric the Entertainer fails to entertain in a reprise of his gangster priest character; Latino standup comic Gabriel Iglesias serves to broaden the range of ethnic humor from simple “see white guys, they drive like this” gags to include Mexican stereotypes as well; and Affion Crockett somehow steals the movie through his repeated, almost Yiddish-like pronunciation of the word “homie.”

Film Review: ‘A Haunted House 2’

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, April 17, 2014. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: An Open Road Films release of a Baby Way/Automatik Entertaiment presentation. Produced by Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez. Executive producers, Stuart Ford, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Todd King, Steven Squillante.

Crew: Directed by Michael Tiddes. Screenplay, Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez. Camera (color), David Ortkiese; editor, Tim Mirkovich; music, Jesse Voccia; music supervisor, Claudia Moross; production designer, Ermanno Di Febo-Orsini; costume designer, Ariyela Wald-Cohain; set decorator, Marina Starec; sound, Randy Lawson; supervising sound editor, Craig Mann; re-recording mixers, Laura Wiest, Mann; visual effects supervisor, Christina Cardona; assistant director, Todd Hilyard; casting, Venus Kanani, Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd.

With: Marlon Wayans, Jaime Pressly, Essence Atkins, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabriel Iglesias, Missi Pyle, Ashley Rickards, Affion Crockett, Steele Stebbins, Hayes MacArthur.

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