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“Madea Halloween” scarily unfunny

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I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.

The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected,  Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.

First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.

This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.

And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.

I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.

As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.

There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.

Rental Corner: “Neighbors” dumb and basic

"Family vs. Frat" as Seth and Zac go head to head

“Family vs. Frat” as Seth and Zac go head to head

The premise of “Neighbors” may have been done before but it shows some promise. The idea of wacky neighbors moving in and turning the quiet life of John Belushi upside down at least brings opportunity for social commentary and ideas for jokes. Of course, I wish I was talking about that 1981 comedy and not the 2014 movie because even the new Seth Rogan and Zac Effron showed bigger opportunities for laughs but it seems stuck in its dumb environment and doesn’t do much clever. The 1981 John G. Avildsen uneven comedy at least had something building towards it with old vs. new, youth vs. senior and anti-socialism. The 2014 Neighbors is a far different movie with some similar cues even though it bears no connection to the Belushi comedy outside of similar themes and a slightly similar story. I’m not saying its clone or a remake. But when two different movies share the same name, it makes you wonder what is the better movie when both feel uneven.

Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne surprisingly work well as a couple that moved into a new neighborhood and have a sweet kid. Moving past their wild days, they try to settle down and focus on a quiet life raising their baby. The good thing so far is the chemistry between these two. They really sell you the idea they are a perfect couple considering the dialogue feels natural and they look cute together. Unfortunately, conflict comes in the form of a fraternity that moves next door and the two battle it off as the couple tries to tell them to keep the party down despite getting roped in to kick back and have a beer every time they try to convince them. Things go too far when they call the cops on the sorority unleashing a war between frat and family as the two try to find a way to get the college kids kicked out for good.

The concept itself shows promise but it goes way too easy for the stupid and dumb. This could have been a smart commentary about “coming of age” and at times it does get that vibe but a good bulk of the movie has Seth smoking a joint with college kids and pulling crazy stunts to get the Delta kids in trouble. The whole movie feels mostly filler as air bag traps are placed in Seth’s office space and in return damages the plumbing system creating a bigger advantage for the Delta group as well as a one-note genital joke that temporary saves their house. I guess the movie is trying to be a lay back and stupid comedy but it doesn’t feel much amounts to anything. Even half the time when Seth and Rose pull their pranks, I’m thinking half the time about what’s going on with the baby. There’s even one hilarious scene where the kid almost swallows a condom leading to a variety of jokes that are not mean spirited but at least work in the context of the movie. I kept wondering why not have more of that. You have an excuse to push the boundaries of comedy here. Instead, it takes a back seat to the ususal drug, poop and sex jokes.

On the plus, the performances are good. Again, Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne work good together. Zac Efron plays the leader of fraternity as he is determined to see their sorority made well known and I do find his character interesting but it feels too villainous. Off the bat, we side for the couple way too easily as his pranks go from harmless to borderline diabolical. In one scene, he twiddles the sorority bat like a cane as he examines the deeds of the past college members as his friend convinces him to move on and focus on reality. Something about this character almost feels like it could work for “A Clockwork Orange” parody like Zac is doing his take of Alex and all that matters is getting his name out there even when he is long gone and graduated. There’s something dark to this character that never made me sympathize him that much and that’s the problem. The couple are easy to feel bad for because they have an excuse; they have a baby!

Later in the year, Seth Rogan and James Franco made “The Interview” which in comparison I feel is the better movie because the satire was clear and its attack on media portrayal left no stone un-turned. “Neighbors” tries to be something akin to “Animal House” where its going for that college humor but there is a big difference. “Animal House” had characters you could relate to and in a way see in a normal fraternity. They were over-glorified but simple people that were underdogs but never gave up. I feel like they attempted the same thing here but it doesn’t come together for me. Most of the comedy is just the straight-up R-rated material you’ve seen before so its not breaking much ground and its source of satire is all over the place. Its is trying to say something about the youth today or getting a life vs. having one that is carefree. Aside from a few solid laughs and good performances, I only recommend this as a rental.