The rule in comedy is if it’s funny once, it’ll be funny each time as long as you keep the joke fresh and interesting. However, unfortunately for Michael Tiddes’ A Haunted House, if you don’t keep that joke fresh, it becomes a stale, obnoxious running joke, which is the most apt description of this film.
The story is a parody of the hit POV horror series Paranormal Activity, much in the spirit of Scary Movie. However, whereas writer Marlon Wayans was able to incorporate several films into that parody, here he is only focused on one, and the film suffers for it; both in pacing and timing.
The movie stars Marlon Wayans as Malcolm Johnson, a man who has inexplicably started filming everything he is doing. His girlfriend Kisha, played by Essence Atkins is moving in, and with her, she brings a ghostly presence that haunts them. The first thing she does is run over Malcolm’s dog, and the jokes only decrease in taste from there; including the overtly homosexual psychic Chip, played by Nick Swardson to the sexually charged swinger couple played by Andrew Daly and Alanna Ubach. And of course, what toilet humor film would be complete without a long line of sexually charged humor.
The issue here isn’t just that the writing is stale and been done before; even done better by the same writers and actors. The issue is that the jokes are all executed with the utmost of poor timing. Even at times when things could be funny, they are quickly subverted by converting them into running gags or exaggerations. The ghost in the movie could easily be the spirit of one of the many dead horses beaten down by this film.
The greatest problem here isn’t even the jokes themselves; it’s the pacing and the timing of each of them. Much likeParanormal Activity, the ghost has most of its activities at night. The next morning, they review the tapes of what happened and move on to the next joke from there. It’s repetitive and gives the movie a feeling of a clip show or sketch comedy than an intelligent movie with a cohesive plot. As a result, any comical timing is completely broken by a pace that is both frustrating and boring.
It isn’t to say that there is no entertainment to be had, here. There is one sequence that, although it almost seems to be made up completely on the spot, is one of the most hilarious as Malcolm engages in sex acts with a series of stuffed animals. The characters are enjoyably well written and, at times, sympathetic even. However, all of the entertaining moments in the film are quickly snuffed out by obnoxious dialogue, redundant comedy and poor timing that takes away anything even remotely resembling a story.
Marlon Wayans is both a talented actor as well as a very gifted writer. His work with the original Scary Movie as well as In Living Color is perhaps some of the best comedy writing of the 1990s. However, this movie is an insult onto that legacy. The jokes are horribly crafted, the characters are the sort of thing that a high school boy would write about to try to be a hit among his friends and the story doesn’t even really exist. To create a successful parody that is both comical and intelligent, there must be a sense of loyalty to the source material as well as development and changes that show the source material in a comical light and offer new insight into it. This was merely a series of sex jokes and stereotypes thrown into a new setting that happen to loosely involve Paranormal Activity.
This movie is cheap and slow attempting to cash in on the back of another successful franchise that is mercifully contained to an 80-minute runtime. This movie would be sparsely enjoyed by anyone over the age of 16 or someone seeking an immature, childish comedy. One star out of four.
In theaters, January 11th. Watch the trailer here.