Directed by Michael Tiddes, Starring Marlon Wayans and Kali Hawk
****** of 10
Spoof movies are difficult to talk about, because they are exclusively about comedy. The plot and characters are usually taken directly from the source material that the spoof is making fun of, and as such it is unfair to expect traits commonly associated with being a “good film”. Honestly, in this regard, “Fifty Shades of Black” is fantastic. Its plot and characters work better than “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I did not hate “Grey”, but I had a few major problems with it. It was too long at two hours, Grey himself was more creepy than romantic, and the side characters had no traits or role of importance. “Black” fixes all of these problems. The movie is just over 80 minutes, refreshingly brief. Christian Black is very upfront about being a disturbing stalker, and playing that element to its extreme works well for laughs. The side characters do things. Her roommate is made far more obnoxious, but her platonic friend is much better in this version. In the original, he is a personality-less waste of space that only exists to remind the viewers that this was originally Twilight fanfiction, because he is Jacob with less to do. In “Black”, this friend is aware that he is not romantically involved with protagonist Hannah (Anna in the original) Steele, and is desperate to be romantically involved. I thought that most of his part was very humorous. The joke is that he will slip in unsubtle hints that he wants to be in bed with Steele. It’s only one joke, but it’s a very funny joke that directly references a flaw of “Grey” and makes the character objectively written better.
On the whole, the jokes were a mixed bag. That’s not a great thing to say about a comedy, but it is a great thing to say about a Wayans spoof. In his “A Haunted House” serious, the bag was full with awful jokes. “Black” definitely has its fair share of bad jokes, though. As is unfortunately par for the course, multiple over-the-top, disgusting sexual jokes are used, and none of them are funny. Black has blue balls, and then he shows his oversized balls. I could have lived without seeing that. There is also an over-reliance on reference humor. Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, and the #blacklivesmatter movement all get referenced for quick gags, and there is an entire scene that is essentially a recreation of the “rushing or dragging” scene from Whiplash. There is also a weird joke where Black’s brother is The Weeknd. I know that he did a song for the “Grey” soundtrack, but it’s a minor connection to build a running joke around, and there is nothing to that joke beyond it being an obvious stand-in for The Weeknd. Unfortunately, the sexual and reference humor do pile up as the film progresses, and it does become tiring to watch by the third act.
However, a majority of the scenes that spoof specific scenes from “Fifty Shades of Grey” are good, and sometimes even great. Granted, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit on display-anybody could have wrote the hardware store scene. But there are many solid bits, from quick jokes that play up elements of the original to their extreme (as in the contract scene, in which Hannah complains about not having enough kinky items listed), to jokes that reverse some elements of the original (Hannah expecting a private helicopter and getting a much less luxurious ride). The best scene in the film is when Hannah gets revenge on Black for beating her, a fantastic idea for a joke that made the film worth watching.
Ultimately, Fifty Shades of Black is worth watching. If you like the Wayans brand of spoof movies, you’ll love this, and from someone who usually doesn’t enjoy them, this is a decent, passable effort, my favorite since the second Scary Movie. Returning to the genre’s roots by crafting a parody of a single movie creates a more focused, although still not very clear or effective, comedy. I imagine somebody who genuinely disliked “Fifty Shades of Grey” will like this even more (I thought it was adequate). Hopefully this marks a shift in style from Marlon and co.