Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

D: Paris Barclay
S: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans

Amusing spoof of the 'hood' movies of the early 1990s featuring two of the younger members of the Wayans clan from In Living Color (who also scripted). In the spirit of elder brother Keenen Ivory Wayans' feature spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, this is a fast and loose parody of the Airplane! kind which will appeal to fans of the style. The plot is an appropriate mishmash of genre clichés following the adventures of Shawn Wayans, an African-American teenager left by his relatively well-to-do mother to live with his irresponsible (and younger) father in a crime-ridden neighbourhood. He hooks up with his nutty cousin (Marlon Wayans) who matches his weapons to his clothing and asks women out on dates at gunpoint, and also meets up with a group of old friends including a dogma-spouting activist who lusts after white women and one in a wheelchair who longs to be a dancer. When Shawn also hooks up with child-laden Tracey Cherelle Jones, he runs afoul of the local 'gangsta', a man so institutionalised that he behaves like he's inside even when he's out.

The film does assume a certain affection for its sense of humour before any of it works. There are many profane, violent, sexually explicit, and drug gags which will immediately alienate a certain coterie of viewers. It is also very scattershot, relying on sketch-like set pieces rather than a coherent story and deriving its laughs from the moment rather than the whole. The characters are merely vehicles for the various jokes and there is no really satirical edge to any of it. But once you accept all of this, it is quite fun. Enough of the gags work and the lead performers are quite likable, so you tend to give it the benefit of the doubt and accept it on its own level.

The film's opening is an adequate taste barometer with which to assess your response. After a typical crane shot which introduces us to the suburban setting, a young man steps up to tell us how things really are in the hood. He is shot. Another steps up to tell it like it is and reminds us that few survive their 21st birthday. He is handed a birthday cake by a friend and subsequently shot. And so it goes. It's not subtle, but if it strikes you in the right frame of mind, it passes the time easily enough. There are some nice bits in there (including a running gag about a roach-smoking, profane grandmother) and though lacking the kind of energy and pace which sustained the Naked Gun series through its first two outings (or even House Party), it doesn't overdo anything in particular (watch for the constant reappearance of Keenen Ivory Wayans as a mailman who shouts 'message' whenever some 'important' line of dialogue is spoken).

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood is probably a relatively harmless companion piece to the films it spoofs rather than a genuinely subversive parody. This is appropriate given the reality of the situation and its immediacy at the time of its making. It was one thing for Mel Brooks to dissect the classic western long after the form had lost its potency for American audiences in the 1970s, but films like Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society, Juice, and South Central (all of which feature in the title, of course) still have a role to play in contemporary American cinema. In this sense the parody perhaps needed a more genuinely dark edge to sneakily reinforce its points, but this is never in question here and from its opening to its closing the film delivers precisely what it sets out to. Tune in if you think you're up to it but it will offend those prone to offence and bore those in search of something more subtle. It's difficult to hate though, and if you give it a chance, you may enjoy it.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.