Anyone who has seen writer/director Deon Taylor’s last film, “Supremacy”, has been awed by the power and strength of the heavy dramatic themes rising from the a racially motivated true story. Many, including myself, have anxiously awaited his follow-up film, curious to see what Taylor would deliver next. That wait is now over. But be warned. “Meet the Blacks” is nothing at all like “Supremacy”. Going from the darkest depths of the souls of men, Taylor reaches to the opposite end of the spectrum with laugh your ass off, belly shaking, eye-watering hilarity with “Meet the Blacks”. Raucous, riotous and irreverent with off-color language to make some toes curl, this is one funny, funny, funny, funny movie!
An all-star comedy team led by Mike Epps, Charlie Murphy, Gary Owen, George Lopez, Lil Duval and laugh-out-loud cameos by Snoop Dogg and Mike Tyson, “Meet the Blacks” is a genre bending spoof of “The Purge” and every horror movie you can think of, all under a fun-filled comedic umbrella. Taylor takes spoofing to new heights thanks to his comedically adept cast. But what is more enamoring is that with the dialogue and comedic notes, this is no holds barred. “Meet the Blacks” is NOT for the faint of heart OR the “politically correct”.
Carl Black wants a better life for his family than that in the hood of Chicago. So, when he comes into a nice chunk of change, he up and moves his new wife Lorena, teen-aged daughter Allie Black, son Carl Jr. – who everyone calls “Carls Jr”, and his cousin Cronut, to Beverly Hills. Finding them a nice, gated, secure community nestled among the blue skies, sunshine and palm trees, Carl knows life is just gonna keep getting better. But Carl picked a bad time to move as the Blacks arrive on the day of the annual purge, when all crime is legal for twelve hours. And did I mention, the Blacks are the only black family in the neighborhood?
Performances are rock solid. As Carl, Mike Epps is at the top of his game with comedic beats and delivery,while the script keenly brings him back to a sweet sense of family by film’s end. It’s nice to see Epps in a film that is so family-centric at its core. A running theme that plays to the character of Carl is dialogue about “doing for my family” which is consistently repeated from beginning to end, and although garners laughs of doubt given the unfolding events during these scenes, goes to the heart of the story itself.
Gary Owen is beyond enjoyable as an unnamed neighborhood stranger who shows up during the purge wielding a maniacal chainsaw. He will have you buzzing with side-splitting laughter with some rapier deadpan and well played physical comedy. Similarly, as Key Flo, a former acquaintance of Carl’s and who has something to do with Carl’s newfound fortune, Charlie Murphy will have you in stitches – and not just with his performance. Wait until you see his clothes!
A new surprise is Zulay Henao as beautiful younger wife Lorena. With a striking Sofia Vergara quality to her in both looks and comedic performance, Henao plays to it well, delivering a quite heartfelt performance; especially when engaging with Alex Henderson who plays the vampire obsessed Carl Jr. As comes as no surprise, Henderson, who made his acting debut in Taylor’s “Supremacy” is still as adorable and charming as ever and takes every opportunity to show off his 100-watt smile, er fangs. His chemistry with Henao is believable and serves as a nice balance to the high octane antics unfolding throughout the film. Bresha Webb thoroughly embodies a street stereotype of girl gone bad as Allie, while finding that balance of also being “Daddy’s Girl” when the chips are down. . .or when she wants something.
There are no words for what Mike Tyson and Lil Duval bring to the table. It goes to the Nth degree of funny. George Lopez rounds things out with a fun take as the Kevlar wearing, “armed and dangerous”, pistol packing President of the United States.
Written by Taylor and Nicole DeMasi, story structure and comedic set up and follow through is solid. They left no stone unturned with purge topics and scenarios. And yes…some very spot on messaging throughout. Watching the family bond through crisis and fear is well executed and a thematic strength that elevates “Meet the Blacks” to a film with more behind it than laughs.
The visual grammar is exemplary – especially once the purge descends. Taylor and cinematographer John Connor do a terrific job with the camera, and in tandem with that, editing courtesy of Suzanne Hines, Patrick McMahon and Richard B. Molina, particularly with camera dutching that really mirrors Mike Epps’ frenetic reactions. Thanks to the visuals and pacing, the audience is as off-kilter as much as the Blacks are. Lighting of various rooms and hallways of the Black house is distinctive and telling as it is, but is then amped up and tweaked during the purge, as well as Taylor’s use of color, always a strong suit in his cinematic design. Particularly effective is a smoke effect during the height of the purge which just escalates the parodied sense of fun and horror movie homage in the proceedings.
There are, however, a couple of scenes that drag a bit once the purge begins. The jokes come and hit big, and the camera expectantly lingers a bit, yet nothing happens. Cutting a few seconds to keep the jokes and audience laughter going would make a big difference. Similarly, there is a kitchen scene (the plot point of which I will not divulge) where it’s obvious Taylor is trying to build dramatic tension with a slow and languid approach, but something just isn’t completely in sync to create the ultimately desired dynamic level.
“Masks off” to Taylor for the ingenuity of parody and nod to horror and heist films over the decades.
Purge yourself of all prejudice and political correctness. Embrace the funny. Embrace the family. And run, don’t walk, to “Meet the Blacks”!
Directed by Deon Taylor
Written by Deon Taylor and Nicole DeMasi
Cast: Mike Epps, Zulay Henao, Alex Henderson, Bresha Webb, Lil Duval, Gary Owen, Mike Tyson, George Lopez, Charlie Murphy
“Meet the Backs” is in theatres nationwide April 1, 2016.