Surprisingly not tag-lined as “a new comedy from the creators of Herbie: Fully Loaded.”...
Expectant couple, Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb), move into a New Orleans fixer-upper, for a very reasonable price. Why the discount? It would appear that many people have turned up dead in this home, and old habits die hard. Soon, Vanessa begins displaying signs of possession by a demonic force, and it’s clear that at least one of the twins she is carrying, is the target. The only solution, of course, is for the Vatican to dispatch a couple of their toughest, worst-accented, priests, to handle the exorcism-required problem.
Hell Baby is a horror comedy from some of the minds that brought us The State, Viva Variety, and Reno 911, but also The Night at the Museum, Herbie Fully Loaded, and Taxi. Why should I bother listing so many previous credits for writer/directors Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant? Because, in this case, it pretty much sums up my feelings for Hell Baby. Whereas the first group were sublime in their smart take on stupid comedy, the second batch were run-of-the-mill studio comedy. That contradiction finds itself coming to a head in this one.
Fortunately, the movie never heads into full spoof mode (leaving that for the Scary Movie franchise and A Haunted House). Rather, this is a comedy that just happens to have a haunted house/possession plot. Many of the familiar elements of these movies are given original treatment, and make for some pretty humorous set pieces. There are also a couple of fantastic running-gags, that keep the laughs coming.
On the downside, the movie, on occasion, also tends to lean towards a few too many easy laughs. For every great bit, it seems as if there is a cheap gag waiting around the corner. Sometimes they work, but often, it gives the movie the feel of several sketches (territory that the creators are quite familiar with) stretched out to a full length film. Also, the priests (played by Lennon and Garant themselves) seem a little out of place. Their, admittedly purposely, bad accents and chain smoking, don't do much to add to the movie until the final moments. Lastly, the normally quite hilarious Rob Corddry, does a fine job, but feels a bit wasted in the straight man role.
There are definitely a few supporting performances that truly raise the comedy level. The first (and second) belong to a couple of cops, played by Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer, investigating some of the strange happenings. Their run of “insults” lobbed at Corddry, provided some of the biggest laughs. Also of note is Riki Lindhome as Bibb’s sister, a hippie chick on refuge from her commune, who has a quite ‘revealing’ introduction to the film.
Lastly, one cannot comment on Hell Baby without mentioning the show-stealing performance of Keegan- Michael Key (the hyphen is necessary, of course, to distinguish from the myriad of other Keegan Michaels). His performance as F’Resnel, an overly friendly, and familiar neighbor living in the crawl space of the possessed home, is the best reason to see the movie. No matter what anyone else is doing, you certainly miss him when he is not on screen.
Jason’s Final Thoughts
Falling right in the middle of their long list of works, Lennon and Garant have crafted a horror comedy that is often quite funny, and displays it’s influences well, but feels a bit disjointed and without focus. It provides plenty of laughs (especially Keegan-Michael Key), but ultimately falls apart in the end (the ending itself combines cheap laughs with an admirably unsafe outcome). Definitely worth a watch, but not one that you’ll find yourself returning to often.
Review by Jason Howard, special to Influx Magazine
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