Thursday, July 26, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: Don't be a menace to South Central while drinking your Juice in the Hood

Directed by Paris Barclay 

Line that stays with me: “Loc Dog was America's worst nightmare, raised in a house with three generations of hopelessness, poverty... and profanity."

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

When most critics speak about “important” films in America you usually get a list of boring Oscar winners like “Beautiful Mind” or “Crash”. Famous films that are supposedly important because they are taking their subject matter seriously and seem to be tackling an important issue. I think most of that is hogwash; I mean really how many films have had a quantifiable positive impact in society? I remember when “Passion of the Christ” was released, you had people crying and walking out saying “That’s it I am going to Church every Sunday and I will become a better person”.  Of course two months later those same people forgot all about that. I do not think it is a film’s job to better society or create guidelines for human beings. Film is an art form, and art should make complex ideas simple to grasp while enlightening or entertaining us. Films shouldn’t be the reason we want to create a better society, if that is the case something is terribly wrong with us as people.  The movies I think are important entertain you with hard work and a clear set of ideas, which will resonate for a very long time. I believe “Don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood” is one of those films. It was a made by a family of filmmakers and the dedication put forth to make it speaks volumes. I do not go to films looking for a “message”, I go to see a great film. The power of a great film is amazing, it gives you great conversations with your friends, and you can watch it ten times and still be excited to watch it again. Films are magical in that way, they make you laugh, cry, reflect, and I think that’s enough. Human beings are stubborn animals who will not learn from reading or watching someone fail. Nope, human beings only seem to learn from tough experiences so why treat movies with ultra-importance?  Instead of searching for a gimmick message we should be taking a good look at the films we watch and realize this is where we are as people. Take it all in and maybe you will find some truths within the film that will be much more powerful than some standard message about good will and cheap hope. 

“Don’t be a menace to South Central while drinking your juice in the hood” is a great parody film. It comes from a family that has dedicated themselves to comedy as much as the Marx Bros. did. From “I’m Gonna get you Sucka” to “Scary Movie”, this is what the Wayans Bros. do. The parody genre is under-appreciated, but when it’s done right it can be very successful as “Scary Movie” proved.  Most people have no idea how hard it is to do a parody film. They are hard to write due to the fact that they have to be consistently funny, silly yet without deflating the main story. All the silliness has to fit for it to work. Great parody films also shine in areas most films fail in doing so like using production design to enhance the reality of that world or visual gags on the corner of the screen that you won’t catch till the third time you watch the film. That is a great incentive for a viewer, but one that takes a lot of dedication from a filmmaker to achieve.  Parody films have more pure cinematic moments than most for that reason. They make your eyes wander to find something in the background, and you find yourself judging how close the parody came to the real thing. Those are great visual techniques; film is a visual medium so I refuse to judge it as poetry. I will always judge films on how they enticed me visually as a viewer and the interaction in that format. Yes, dialog is important, but if visually you cannot make me believe that the story I am watching is happening, what’s the point? From beginning to end “Don’t be a menace...” lets you look into a fully created world designed with precision ,which is something that you rarely see from any film, plus it’s a truly hilarious parody film and the first of its kind.

I am the kind of person that respects hard work. I have problems with people who do not respect hard work. You do not have to like it but please respect it. “Don’t be a menace..” may not be your cup of tea but these artists were not lazy. Soon as Ashtray walks into his young father’s home, we see a crazy amount of production design on display. Everything is covered in plastic from the couches to the book shelves, which is a great visual joke. Throughout the film every set is treated in this manner. When Loc Dog and Ash Tray go to “40’s and Nines” you see all types of funny signs, posters, “Robopimp” being  my favorite. My favorite set is the “Rufus Deep Fried Chicken and Oil Change” set, which is a stupid silly idea that could only exists in a parody film. That’s the classic scene where Ashtray and Locdog “Vogue” and get arrested for being black on a Friday night. It would have been enough for the filmmakers to just show the sign of “Rufus Deep Fried Chicken and Oil Change” ,but during Loc Dog and Ashtray’s conversation you can actually see the clerk serving soda with a gas pump. All this extra work just to make this silly world come to life and to keep our eyes ready for the next joke. I love films that have purpose. A film that says this is what I am and is not ashamed one bit. The Wayans Bros. set out to make a great parody film. They did not try to please everybody, but to make a film that can stand next to the likes of “Airplane” and “Naked Gun”.  They achieved that visually with this film, with visual gags that you can only catch if you pause the film, and classic moments like gang leader “Toothpick” jumping in a new member using a jump rope. 

Top Ten Dialog Moments (Tribute to Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Phil Beauman) 

  •   Tray, I don't want you hangin' out in the streets. I want you to finish school, 'cause without an education the only kind of work you're gonna get is sellin' drugs, pimpin' women, or workin' security for Eddie Murphy.
  •  Ashtray! You little bitch ass motherfucker! Come over here and give your grandma a hug!
  • Well, I see your hobbies include "drinkin', smokin' weed, and all kinds of ill shit."
  •  If you hit a man, in time his wounds will heal. If you steal from a man, you can replace what you steal. But always cross in the green, never in between. Because the honorable Elijah Muhammed Ali floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. And always remember my brother, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, knick knack, paddy whack, give a dog a bone, two thousand, zero, zero, party, oops! Out of time, my bacon smellin' fine.
  • Name: Loc Dog, baby. Height: Six-deuce! Age: 19. Father's name: mmm... I dunno. Sex: hell yeah, nigga! Salary desired: 3 million dollars! Cash!
  • You ain't so tough now, little nigga. I hate your black bastards, you *stink*! I hate your black skin. I hate your black pants. I hate black pepper. I hate black keys on a piano. I hate my gums, because they're black. I hate Whoopi Goldberg's *lips*. I hate the back of Forrest Whittaker's neck. AHH! Most of all, I hate that black-ass Wesley Snipes.
  • Loc Dogg, turn down that loud ass mothafuckin music down, you wakin up the fuckin babies, mothafucka. This still my mothafuckin house, mothafucka...
  •  And that's what God expects from His sheep, here at the Greater Ebenezer New Revival Tree of Life Institutional Double Rock on the Side of the Road to Jericho Missionary Baptist Church of Zion! And I said Mount Cavalry! Huh! Y'all gonna help me!
  • Uh uh, fool. That's the baby's lunch.
  • Trying to win best actor at the Soul Train awards.

You have to go frame by frame to catch all the jokes on the screen in “Don’t be a menace”, but what makes the film even more impressive is that it also has a great set of one-liners and performances. Everybody remembers the famous line from the film “Are you my daddy” ,which is still very funny ,but now I find myself laughing at so many more lines of dialog, which are very thought out. For example, when Ashtray’s father says “I’m about to have some breakfast” and holds up a Hershey Bar or the late great Bernie Mac as Officer Self Hatred, saying things like “I hate black keys on a piano” ,that scene alone is worth the price of admission. There’s a fine tuning in the dialog that I just love.  It sounds natural, but the dialog is so rich that it had to be thought out in order for the audience to enjoy the punch line. It is in this manner that Wayans Bros. and their writing partners separate themselves from the competition. Perfect example is the scene where Ashtray’s dad gives him some advice while they’re fishing. Ashtray’s father tells him “Give up hope, dreams are for suckers! There ain’t no world for you!”  That is classic Wayans Bros. dialog filled with blunt truths and honest comedy.  This is a silly movie; this is not about righting the world’s wrongs. This is about laughing, and a crook pointing a gun at some old lady saying “Hey that’s a nice walker lady” is very funny, unless you’re uptight of course. The comical performances in this film are amazing, whether you single out Marlon's Wayan's classic physically heavy performance of "Loc Dog" or Sulli McCullough infectious laugh as "Crazy Legs", the performances alone in various moments throughout the film are very special.

“Don’t be menace…” may not seem like a big deal anymore but I know the truth. This film came out before “Chappelle Show” before “The Boondocks” before every other film or TV show started using the word nigga as a punch line. Even before Hip-Hop as a whole became one big inside joke for many. The Wayans Bros. were the first to put it all on the table for better or worse. It included every stereotype hood joke you can think of and created some new ones. They took it there, a grandma smoking out all day, Ashtray’s father being only a couple of years older than him, the MAN! (Who in the film is responsible for setting up OJ Simpson). The film did not hold back in sharing these very taboo jokes about real people in poor neighborhoods.  Now what’s amazing to me is how much more power this film has to brighten people’s day or open their eyes than the original films it is based on. People who live in poor neighborhoods do not need a reminder of how bad things have gotten. “Boyz N the Hood” did not make the ghetto a better place, it just became a film for the media to "enlighten"  better off people on how bad some kids have it in these impoverished neighborhoods . Is that important? I don’t think so. At least “Menace II Society” tried to scare kids to death by killing it’s hero in the end, but even the Hughes Brothers have admitted that they don’t think “Menace II Society” will change someone’s life in a positive way.  I think “Don’t be a menace...” has a better shot of making ignorant people wise up, due to the fact that it makes them look like a bunch of clowns. Loc Dog is an exaggeration of O -Dog from “Menace II Society” but it is not that far fetch.  To me, the whole film is one big joke of how ignorant and pathetic most urban communities have become. To the point where we can poke fun at them all the time, from the way they dress, to the way they speak, the ghetto is one big joke. I think someone laughing at your short comings is a very powerful way to tell someone to get it together. It’s like when you’re on a diet and someone calls you fatty, it hurts your feelings, but I bet you the next day you will be working out even harder to escape ridicule. Yet,somehow the basic fact that being overweight is very unhealthy and dangerous is not a good enough motivation, go figure. I think this film works in a similar way, and if these people don’t mind being looked at as clowns or the butt to many jokes, then I say let it be more jokes for me.   

ABOUT RCM: RUTZ Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" 


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