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DON'T BE A MENACE
To South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans
Director: Paris Barclay
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: September 20, 2005

“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 working security for Eddie Murphy.”

Film ***1/2

Like many spoof movies, most of your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you’ve seen the many movies that are lampooned. In the case of Don’t Be a Menace (To South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood), the title alone indicates exactly which movies you will need to see in order to get the jokes. It’s a ridiculously funny title to what is still one of the funniest spoof movies of the last decade.

What still surprises me to this day is the fact that I can find myself laughing out loudly at a movie that is mainly ripping a new one for two of the most important films of the 1990s; John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood and The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society. Here were two films that dealt with such serious subject matter, and included some of the most realistic on-screen violence ever to be seen. Who in the world saw the possible humor in making fun of such material?

The comedy team of brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans were completely game. They were in no way afraid to lampoon the very movies that were important moments in black cinema. However, the fact was that by 1996 when this movie was made, there did seem to be an endless amount Boyz and Menace-inspired movies in both theaters and video stores, thus allowing the existence of Don’t Be a Menace to serve some purpose.

The movie takes no prisoners right from its opening, which has Ashtray (Shawn Wayans), a replica to Cuba Gooding’s character in Boyz N the Hood, is sent to live with his dad in South Central. His mom says it’s the only way for him to grow up like a man, and plus, as she puts it, “You know there ain’t no positive black females in these movies. So Ashtray is about to learn some valuable life lessons from his father, who’s only a few years older than he is.

A few houses down lives Ashtray’s cousin, Loc Dog (Marlon Wayans), resembling Larenz Tate’s character, O-Dog, in Menace II Society. Loc Dog, as Ashtray informs us, is America’s worst nightmare, raised by three generations of hopelessness, poverty, and profanity. Together, the two encounter every bad element in the hood, from rival gangs to single mothers to black cops who really hate black people.

The movie is essentially a series of strung-together sequences with; each of which brings with it a huge laugh. One really has to give the Wayans credit for making laugh-out-loud moments of serious situations made famous in the movies being spoofed. For instance, everyone remembers the intense scene in Boyz N the Hood where Cuba Gooding gets verbally assaulted by a black cop. Here, Bernie Mac plays the racist cop, and his variation on this scene is one unbelievably funny moment.

Another such case is the spoofing of the famous opening scene of Menace II Society, where a Korean store owner and his wife are shot to death simply for making a comment on one of the character’s mother. Here, the very same Korean actors play the same roles. The same situation occurs and the end result is a gloriously over the top shoot out that closes with a terrific punch line involving “The Man”.

Virtually every serious topic relating to life in the hood is taken aim at. Ashtray falls for a woman with not just one or two kids. Loc Dog informs Tray, “She got more kids than Ms. Wayans.” And when the two land in jail for “Being Black on a Friday night”, a group of precinct cops are seen playing an arcade game titled “Rodney King 3000”, and Ashtray gets a cellmate named Farrakhan-vict, who is filled with wise words of philosophy, such as, “The honorable Elijah Muhammed Ali floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee!”

And the movie also contains some of the funniest visual gags that would make the Zucker Brothers proud. One classic gag has two guys standing outside a store. One pages the other, who then calls him back on a cell phone, saying, “You ready to roll?” Another great scene is a cartoonish take on a scene in Menace II Society where a rival gang member gets stomped on, only this time he gets stomped into the ground, literally.

It can be very much concluded that the Wayans Brothers have a true gift for spoofing movies. Don’t Be a Menace was a brilliantly daring first time go, and one that would lead to their even raunchier Scary Movie four years later. If you by chance have a bad taste in your mouth from their last movie, White Chicks, then this movie demands to be re-discovered as a reminder that they are genuine comedy crafters.

BONUS TRIVIA: Older brother Keenan Ivory Wayans can be spotted in a very funny cameo as a mailman who pops up to yell, “MESSAGE!” after an important fact as been mentioned.

Video ***

I was happy to see that this movie got a second release on DVD. It was originally released during the heyday of non-anamorphic widescreen releases. With a new anamorphic picture, the movie looks better than ever. The image quality is most superb, give or take a quick blemish or two, and even slight lacking in a couple of dark shots, but they don’t even begin to distract. Credit Miramax for restoring the movie in the way it should be viewed in.

Audio ***

Most surprised since the sound mix is only in 2.0. This outrageous comedy does have a lot to work with. There is plenty of hip-hop beats on the soundtrack, along with many sequences of comic violence that make the presentation a much more lively one than you would expect with such a sound format.

Features **

The features are actually quite scarce for a Collector’s Series release. The movie itself contains about five minutes of extra footage, and the extras consist of a hilarious deleted scene and two very short featurettes, “The Wayans Brothers Behind the Scenes” and “Hood Movie Gumbo”.

Summary:

Don’t Be a Menace is an enormously funny, and extremely envelope-pushing, comedy extravaganza. Shawn and Marlon Wayans do an incredible job of spoofing the very movies that were never intended to be spoofed. The result is a locked and loaded laughfest that will no doubt cure your laughter blues.

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