Review: ‘The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,’ starring Mike Epps and Katt Williams

June 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michael Blackson, Mike Epps, Zulay Henao, Bresha Webb and Lil Duval in “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2”

Directed by Deon Taylor

Culture Representation: Taking place in Atlanta, the horror comedy film “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with a few white people and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married father and his bachelor cousin are convinced that their new next-door neighbor is a vampire.

Culture Audience: “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching crass and unimaginative movies filled with derogatory name-calling of women and black people.

Shamea Morton, Katt Williams and Sisse Marie in “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The good news is that “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” knows that it’s a silly and vulgar comedy. The bad news is that this movie fails miserably at being funny. This idiotic film also has rampant sexism and thinks that black people calling each other the “n” word is automatically supposed to make people laugh. It’s just a pathetic excuse for a comedy film.

“The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” is the follow-up to the 2016 horror comedy “Meet the Blacks,” both directed and co-written by Deon Taylor, a filmmaker who’s known for churning out low-quality movies with predominantly African American casts. In “Meet the Blacks,” which Taylor co-wrote with Nicole DeMasi, the Black family relocated from Chicago to Beverly Hills, California, where they encountered horror that was ripped off directly from 2013’s “The Purge,” a movie about a United States where all crime is legal, for a designated 12-hour period one day out of the year.

In “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” which Taylor co-wrote with Corey Harrell, the Black family is now in a horror scenario that’s a direct ripoff of the 1985 movie “Fright Night.” Family patriarch Carl Black (played by Mike Epps) and his goofy cousin Cronut (played by Lil Duval), a bachelor who lives in Carl’s backyard, begin to suspect that their new next-door neighbor is a vampire, but no one believes them at first. The other members of the Black family are Carl’s wife Lorena (played by Zulay Henao); their college-age daughter Allie (played by Bresha Webb); and their underage teen son Carl Jr. (played by Alex Henderson). Allie and Carl Jr. are Carl’s kids from a previous marriage.

Carl has a shady past as a thief. As seen in “Meet the Blacks,” he’s been trying to leave his criminal life behind. In the beginning of “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” it’s mentioned that Carl wrote a best-selling non-fiction book about the horror he experienced that was shown in the “Meet the Blacks” movie. However, irresponsible Carl blew all the money he made from the book, and the family has now been forced to downsize to a smaller home in Atlanta. Carl is currently unemployed, while Lorena is the family’s breadwinner—and she’s very unhappy that she has to carry all the financial weight for the family.

Meanwhile, Cronut (who is also unemployed) lives in an oversized camper in the family’s backyard. It’s a promotional camper that’s left over from a book tour that Carl did, and it still has images of Carl and the book emblazoned on the sides of the camper. Carl has some hard feelings toward Cronut, because Cronut talked Carl into some bad business deals that led to Carl losing his money.

The family’s financial problems have resulted in Allie dropping out of college, because Carl wrote a tuition check that bounced. Allie is dating a disabled man, who’s about the same age as Allie, named Freezee (played by Andrew Bachelor, also known as King Bach), who uses arm braces in order to walk. Carl is very prejudiced against Freezee because Carl doesn’t want Allie to date a disabled man. Carl gets even more upset when Allie says she wants to move away and live with Freezee.

Cronut is immediately suspicious of the new neighbor Dr. Mamuwalde (played by Katt Williams, who’s styled to look like Leon Russell from the 1970s) because Dr. Mamuwalde moved into the house next door well past midnight, and the only activity in the house seems to happen at night. During the first house party that Dr. Mamuwalde has at his home, it looks like a swingers party is going on in the backyard. Dr. Mamuwalde also seems to be avoiding meeting his new neighbors.

When Dr. Mamuwalde surfaces, he is almost always seen with two scantily clad women named Salt (played by Sisse Marie) and Pepper (played by Shamea Morton), who are both dressed in lingerie and are mute for most of the movie. Dr. Mamuwalde has a creepy servant named Monty (played by Cory Zooman Miller), who gives vague answers about Dr. Mamuwalde when nosy Cronut goes over to pay a visit. Carl eventually encounters Monty too, and Carl also thinks that something unusual is going on at Dr. Mamuwalde’s house.

At first, Carl thinks Cronut has a wild imagination about Dr. Mamuwalde being a vampire. Carl thinks that Dr. Mamuwalde is probably a pimp. It turns out that Dr. Mamuwalde is a vampire and a pimp. Later in the movie, Dr. Mamuwalde kidnaps Lorena and Allie because he wants them to be his sex slaves. In a lowbrow comedy like this, would you expect anything else?

Other neighbors who are in this story are wide-eyed and fearful Rico (played by Tyrin Turner), who disappears and has a fate that’s very easy to predict; tough guy Hugo (played by Danny Trejo), who doesn’t say much, but he observes more than he lets on to other people; and married couple Clive (played by Gary Owen) and Bunny (played by Jena Frumes), who are both completely useless to the movie’s plot. Owen was in “Meet the Blacks,” but playing a different character named Larry. In “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2,” Owen plays the token white guy who’s supposed to be racist.

Clive is a military veteran who uses a wheelchair and is a proud supporter of Donald Trump. (Clive wears a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, in case it wasn’t clear what his politics are.) Meanwhile, Bunny’s only purpose in the movie is to look like a basic Instagram model—she wears a bikini top and Daisy Duke cutoff shorts that leave little to the imagination—so that Carl and some other men can ogle her.

In fact, all of the women with significant speaking roles in the movie are exploited as sex objects at some point. Mother and daughter Lorena and Allie are both stripped down to their underwear in separate scenes. Not surprisingly, they’re wearing the type of lingerie that makes it look like they’re trying to be like Victoria’s Secret models.

Meanwhile, the men are fully clothed, except for one not-very-funny scene where a shirtless Cronut tries to seduce Bunny. There’s also a disgusting incest joke where Cronut suggests to his second cousin Allie that they have sex. He tells her that because they’re second cousins, it would be legal for them to have sex in Georgia. Not surprisingly, a repulsed Allie says no to Cronut’s sexual come-on.

Snoop Dogg has a small role, portraying himself as a TV talk show host who interviewed Carl in the past when Carl was promoting his book. One day, when a depressed Carl is at home, watching TV, and feeling sorry for himself, he sees an African man named Mr. Wooky (played by Michael Blackson) being interviewed on the show. Mr. Wooky claims to be a supernatural expert who can get rid of ghosts, vampires and other unwanted paranormal entities. Guess who Carl ends up hiring to get rid of the vampire next door?

All the so-called “jokes” in the movie are forgettable, and most are awful. Many of the jokes are about perpetuating the despicable and negative stereotype that black men hate themselves and don’t respect women. The visual effects are cheap-looking and not scary at all.

And all of the cast members are unremarkable in their roles, although Williams seems to be having some fun with his campy Dr. Mamuwalde character. Carl Jr. is barely in the movie; his total screen time is about five minutes. Rick Ross has a cameo as Mr. Saturday Night, who’s enlisted to help Carl and Cronut battle Dr. Mamuwalde. Mr. Saturday Night is another unnecessary character that was created just so the filmmakers could put hip-hop star Ross in the movie.

And a mid-credits scene announces the third movie in this series will be called “Chapter 3: The Ghost Squad,” starring Carl, Cronut, Mr. Wooky, Snoop Dogg and Hugo as the Ghetto Ghostbusters. Whether are not this “Ghost Squad” movie is really going to happen, you’ve been warned.

Lionsgate released “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on July 9, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on August 10, 2021.

Review: ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,’ starring the voices of Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Matt Berry, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence and Mr. Lawrence

March 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence), Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke), Plankton (voiced by Doug Lawrence), SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny), Gary (on top of SpongeBob’s head) and Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown) in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (Image courtesy of Paramount Animation)

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run”

Directed by Tim Hill

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional, underwater places of Bikini Bottom and the Lost City of Atlantic City, the live-action/animated film “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” features a predominantly white voice cast (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) in a comedic adventure story that’s part of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise.

Culture Clash: SpongeBob SquarePants and his neighbor Patrick Star go on a mission to rescue SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary, which is being held captive by an egotistical overlord named King Poseidon.

Culture Audience: “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise and people who like family-friendly animation that can be enjoyed by various generations.

King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry) in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (Image courtesy of Paramount Animation

As the first computer-generated imagery (CGI) animated movie in the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is an exuberant and eye-catching adventure that makes up for some predictable moments with just enough unexpected zaniness to make it worth watching for anyone who appreciates earnestly goofy animation. It’s not necessary to see any episodes of the long-running Nickelodeon animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” or its spinoff movies (“Sponge on the Run” is the third one in the film series) to enjoy the movie, although it certainly provides some better context for some of the relationships in the movie.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” has several scenes that are flashbacks to some of the characters’ childhoods. It’s an obvious promotion for “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” the prequel spinoff “SpongeBob” TV series that launches on Paramount+ (formerly known as CBS All Access) on the same day that “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is available on the streaming service. “Kamp Koral” focuses on what some of the main characters did as children at Kamp Koral, and “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” gives a sense of what people can get expect from this spinoff TV series.

Written and directed by Tim Hill, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is the first “SpongeBob” movie to be released since the 2018 death of SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 57. The movie has a dedication to Hillenburg before the end credits. Compared to 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and 2015’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” there’s a slightly wackier vibe to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” thanks in large part to an amusing featured role from Keanu Reeves.

Things in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom are what SpongeBob fans can expect: SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny), the cheerfully upbeat sponge protagonist, is still working as a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant called the Krusty Krab, which is owned by his cranky Scottish boss Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown). The pessimistic Squidward Tentacles (voiced by Rodger Bumpass) also works at the Krusty Krab. The tiny green copepod named Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) and his computer wife Karen (played by Jill Talley) are still scheming to get the secret recipe formula for the Kristy Krab’s Krabby Patty burgers, in order to boost Plankton and Karen’s failing rival restaurant the Chum Bucket.

This time, there’s a new challenge: SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary (also voiced by Kenny, who makes Gary sound like a cat) is stolen by Plankton, who gives Gary to the vain and tyrannical King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry) because the king uses snail slime to keep his face looking youthful. King Poseidon ran out of snails and offered a reward to anyone who could provide him with a useful snail. Plankton sees that offer as an opportunity to try to get in the king’s good graces and get revenge on SpongeBob. King Poseidon lives at Poseidon Palace, which is located in the Lost City of Atlantic City.

What follows is a madcap trek that involves SpongeBob and his amiable starfish neighbor Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) going on a mission to find and rescue Gary. Along the way, they end up in a Western ghost town, where they have some off-the-wall encounters with flesh-eating zombie pirates (portrayed by live actors), a rapping gambler (played by Snoop Dogg) and a villainous zombie cowboy called El Diablo (played by Danny Trejo). But some of the funniest scenes in the movie are with a giant, advice-giving tumbleweed named Sage that rolls into SpongeBob and Patrick’s lives when they first arrive in the ghost town. Sage is a tumbleweed with a talking head of Reeves inside the center.

Also part of these antics is a new automated computer robot named Otto (voiced by Awkwafina), which the brainy squirrel Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence) has given as a gift to Mr. Krabs. However, Mr. Krabs quickly gets annoyed with Otto and throws the robot away. Otto ends up becoming a crucial part of how the story develops.

The movie also has some cameos of celebrities playing a version of themselves as underwater animated characters that work at a nightclub in the Lost City of Atlantic City. Tiffany Haddish appears briefly on stage as a wisecracking fish that’s a stand-up comedian named Tiffany Haddock. Jazz saxophonist Kenny G plays a plant called Kelpy G, which does a smooth jazz version of “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme from the 1997 movie “Titanic.” It’s a somewhat subversive song choice, considering “Titanic” is a disaster movie where most of the characters end up drowning in the ocean.

There are some other endearingly oddball and unexpected choices in the movie, such as a criminal trial that takes place at the nightclub. The King Poseidon character plays with masculine and feminine stereotypes, by blurring the lines between obsessions with machismo and obsessions with beauty products. It’s why King Poseidon is not a typical villain in an animated film.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” clearly knows its audience well, since it’s made for kids as well as adults. “SpongeBob SquarePants” has been on the air since 1999; therefore, many of the kids who grew up watching the show now have children of their own. It explains the inclusion of Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Kenny G and Danny Trejo as cameos, since these stars’ pop culture significance have a different meaning to people who are old enough remember the 1990s and early 2000s.

The movie’s very retro music soundtrack is definitely geared more to adults, with rock and pop tunes from the late 20th century, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Weezer has two songs on the soundtrack: “It’s Always Summer in Bikini Bottom” and a cover version of a-ha’s “Take on Me” and the original song Also on the soundtrack is the Flaming Lips’ “Snail: I’m Avail.”

Mikros did the movie’s vivid CGI and animation, which is not as outstanding as a Pixar movie, but it’s better than most CGI animated films. Writer/director Hill moves things along at a brisk-enough pace, even though it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” imparts a lot of positive messages of self-acceptance, but the characters have enough foibles and flaws to make the jokes relatable to viewers. Watch this movie if you like animated films and you’re up for an energetic diversion that might make you want more “SpongeBob” movies, regardless of how familiar or unfamiliar you might be with the franchise.

Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies will release “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” on Paramount+ on March 4, 2021, the same date that Paramount Home Entertainment releases the movie on VOD. The movie was released in Canada in 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Short History of the Long Road’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

Sabrina Carpenter in “The Short History of the Long Road” (Photo by Cailin Yatsko)

“The Short History of the Long Road

Directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

There comes a point in any career of a Disney Channel or Nickelodeon star who wants to transition from “teen idol” to “serious artist” that he or she takes on a gritty role so that people will change their perception of them as just another pretty face. Sabrina Carpenter, a singer/actress who has done several Disney Channel projects, has chosen her first such transitional role in the emotional drama “The Short History of the Long Road.” In the movie, she plays a homeless teen named Nola Frankel, who is searching for her long-lost mother, who abandoned Nola as a baby.

In the beginning of the story, Nola is living out of a motorhome van with her father Clint (played by Steven Ogg), an over-protective, paranoid vagrant who thinks that settling down in one place and living among society are dangerous for the soul. Although Clint and Nola don’t live completely off the grid (he makes money by doing odd jobs, such as repairs), he has some quirky habits that have affected Nola’s outlook on life. One of those habits is whenever he and Nola see a movie in a theater or on TV, he won’t let her watch the movie’s ending. We find out early on in this story that Nola’s mother leaving the family has a lot to do with why Clint is raising Nola in a nomadic existence. Nola doesn’t know any other life, since she was raised that way since she was a toddler, and Clint is very reluctant to tell her details about her mother.

Although some people might think this movie is similar to the 2018 film “Leave No Trace” (another grim story about a homeless, paranoid father raising his teenage daughter outside of the norms of society), “The Short History of the Long Road” is not the same kind of movie because it’s not as depressing as “Leave No Trace.” For starters, Clint is the kind of parent who has a sense of adventure, and he doesn’t want to hide his daughter from the world, whereas the father in “Leave No Trace” wants to live in such extreme seclusion in the woods to the point where people can’t find him and his daughter. Although Clint doesn’t trust the school system, he’s educated Nola and passed on a love of books to his daughter—they often go to libraries in their travels—and he has no problems interacting with people in a friendly manner when he needs to make money. Clint also doesn’t keep Nola isolated, since they go to restaurants, stores and movie theaters.

Still, the mystery over what happened to Nola’s mother is starting to weigh on Nola, and Clint’s vague answers (“she zigged while we zagged”) aren’t going to satisfy her any longer. The only thing that Clint will tell her is that when he and Nola’s mother were a couple, they used to own a bar together, and she left Clint and Nola shortly after Nola was born. Clint promises he’ll tell Nola more about her mother when they get to New Orleans (Nola was named after the city’s nickname), but before they get there, something happens to Clint in the first third of the movie that leaves Nola on her own.

Nola is self-sufficient enough to know how to drive a car (even though she doesn’t have a license) and she can make basic repairs, but as a teenage girl, it’s harder for her than it was for her father to get people to hire her for odd jobs. In addition to dealing with the stress of being homeless, alone, and trying to get money legally, Nola has to dodge anyone who might turn her in to child welfare authorities if they find out she’s under 18. She also still has the goal to find her mother.

Although Carpenter is fairly convincing as a distressed teen and brings a certain plucky spirit to the role, what isn’t entirely convincing is how the movie’s screenplay (which was written by director Ani Simon-Kennedy) glosses over some very serious issues of what life would really be like for a teenage girl in Nola’s situation. Nola has to be the luckiest homeless teenage girl in the U.S., because not once does she have anyone try to take advantage of her.

Yes, Nola gets into some uncomfortable situations where she has to contemplate whether or not she’s going to steal in order to eat, but somehow she gets enough money for gas to travel from state to state. Not once is she ever robbed, conned or enticed into criminal activities by people who see that she’s desperate for cash. We don’t know if Clint ever taught Nola any physical self-defense skills because she doesn’t need to defend herself from that kind of harm in this story. Even with the protection of living in a van, she gets into some dicey situations where, if this were the real world, it would be very unlikely that she would walk away unscathed.

For example, in one part of the movie, Nola ends up crashing at an empty house that appears to be unoccupied because the house is in foreclosure. When a rowdy bunch of young male skateboarders enter the house to skate in the empty swimming pool, there’s some initial tension between the skateboarders and Nola, but then the skateboarders invite Nola to party with them in the house. Here’s a young, attractive female in a group of intoxicated, rebellious guys who know she’s homeless and on her own, so it’s kind of unbelievable that none of them would try to make any moves on her.

And her luck continues throughout the story: When Nola (who looks underage and doesn’t have a fake ID) gets caught sleeping in her van late at night in a parking lot, a security guard just shoos her away, even though she’s obviously an underage child out past curfew time. When she tries to steal gas from a recreational vehicle camper owned by a senior citizen, he catches her in the act, but goes easy on her by sending her off with just a warning instead of calling the police. The entire time that she’s traveling, when it’s obvious she’s on her own, she doesn’t have creepy guys offering to “help her out,” even though in real life we all know this would happen to her.

At a convenience store, a female customer named Marcie (played by Rusty Schwimmer) figures out that Nola is homeless, and invites her to eat at a church’s soup kitchen where Marcie happens to be a volunteer. When Marcie gains Nola’s trust, she later invites Nola to live with her, her husband and the other foster kids they are raising. Nola doesn’t stay for long—Marcie is a little too strict and a little too religious for Nola—because Nola is really on a mission to find her mother.

At another point in the story, Nola’s van (which is nicknamed The Hulk) breaks down, and needs repairs that Nola can’t afford to pay. So, she convinces the owner of an auto body shop, a tough-but-tender taskmaster named Miguel (played by Danny Trejo), to let her work for him in order to pay off the cost of the repairs. It isn’t long before Miguel lets Nola live rent-free at the body shop. While she lives and works at Miguel’s body shop, Nola notices a Navajo Indian teenage girl close to her age named Blue (played by Jashaun St. John), who keeps hanging around. Nola and Blue strike up a tentative friendship, and Blue reveals that she doesn’t like to be at home because her widowed father is abusing her. Blue dreams of escaping from her father by moving in with an aunt, who has invited Blue to live with her on a reservation.

It would be too much of a spoiler to reveal if Nola ever finds her mother. Getting the answer to that mystery is one of the main reasons why “The Short History of the Long Road” is more engaging than it should be, considering the movie’s sanitized portrayal of being a homeless teenage girl. Carpenter does as good of a job as she can with the script that she’s been given. This movie didn’t need to have any big, histrionic moments or non-stop mayhem. In fact, Carpenter’s adept portrayal of Nola’s quiet desperation is one of the best things about the film. However, a little more realism about the dangers of being a homeless teenage girl traveling alone across the country would have gone a long way in improving this story.

UPDATE: FilmRise will release “The Short History of the Long Road” in select U.S. theaters on June 12, 2020, and on digital and VOD on June 16, 2020.

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