Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Movies don't come much worse than "Meet the Blacks," and when they do, they tend to go straight to video. At this quality level they tend to slink beneath the classification of movie per se, because technically they're just some dude screwing around with a camera and his buddies so he can get better at Final Cut. There are many markers of the overall badness of "Meet the Blacks," but none perhaps more damning than George Lopez playing a character named President El Bama, maybe the funniest thing in this film's 90-minute run time.
A comedy in aspiration only, "Meet the Blacks" takes place in the universe of "The Purge" and its sequels, in which, for one night a year, all crime (murder, most relevantly) is legal. Director/writer/former pro basketball player Deon Taylor takes that premise and tries to spoof it, sorta, by moving a family from Chicago to a mansion in Beverly Hills right before the annual Purge. Rich people don't Purge is the mantra that the father, Carl Black (Mike Epps), is rolling with, blithely. But he didn't count on the shaggiest plotting ever catching up to him: He skipped Chicago with a bunch of loose ends tailing him, and rich people do in fact Purge like a sumbitch, so the Blacks (who are, you guessed already, also lower-case black) get to fight off a bunch of Carl's old nemeses as well as racist white homeowner-association types.
You know it's rough when you leave a movie thinking, "Man, I wonder what the Wayans brothers could've done with that premise." Everything about the plot is a scattershot mess; it's not entirely clear that either of Carl's kids have ever acted before, or that his cousin or wife wanted to. Epps himself is likable enough, and does get some laughs. The script sounds like a mashup between Cards Against Humanity, online Halo 4 trash-talk and pure pop-culture improv. Marijuana figures heavily into the plot and may be strictly necessary, therefore, to fully appreciate it.
It's not a total loss. Snoop Dogg appears briefly as a blonde white dude (and in a music video that accompanies a Raven Felix track, "Hit the Gas," on the soundtrack). Mike Tyson plays an evil-clown character named James Clown. There's a pretty solid Vanessa Williams joke. Anyone averse to hearing racial epithets slung around might want to watch this on mute, but there's one accidentally clever moment in which a chainsaw-wielding white guy in a mask threatens Carl's family with various horrors. Dude gets himself too worked up and drops an N-bomb. Instantly realizing his mistake, he takes the mask off, apologizes, accepts some abuse from his co-Purgers, apologizes again, and then reminds Carl that he's still there to kill him. So, spoiler alert, it's not all completely brain dead.
Actually, it could've been kinda rad. The genius of the mini-genre that "The Purge" cooked up (and why it turned a $3 million movie into a smash that has piles of sequels and now its own spoof-take) was how it took a seemingly bonkers premise and spun it into something borderline plausible: You could almost see some whacked-out Republican Congress of 2020 passing a Purge night as a patriotic anti-crime bill that the NRA could endorse. And that idea (which became, especially in the sequel, acidic commentary on class tension in America) was meant to appeal to anyone who's inclined to think rich old white people are, in broad terms, preying on the poor.
In an interview before the movie's release, Taylor said he was a big "Purge" fan: "I was like, this would be hilarious if there was a black family in the Purge." When you say it like that, yeah, you can start to see how it could sell. Put some witty but world-weary characters in a situation where they're stuck outside on Purge night, yeah, it could be funny, and actually exciting. This ain't that movie. But don't worry: Something more like the real thing, "The Purge: Election Year," yet another Purging sequel, lands July 1. Cue a bald eagle loading a pump shotgun while smoking a big spliff.
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