By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Haunted House exists to poke fun. Pity that it's so poky.
With Scary Movie 5 headed our way in April, the prospects of a fifth fizzler in that woeful series certainly leaves room for another slant on the horror takeoff.
Unfortunately, A Haunted House keeps down the good work.
It arrives as if it were "Scary Movie 4.5" with an asterisk, there to remind us that the central gimmick of this variety of horror spoof is found footage.
A Haunted House is a sorry sendup of the popular and legitimately disturbing quartet of Paranormal Activity chillers and other found and surveillance footage flicks, such as Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, Chronicle, Project X, The Devil Inside, The Last Exorcism, The Troll Hunter, and their ilk, which have established a beachhead at multiplexes and have not yet been saluted with a roast.
So Marlon Wayans, no stranger to scary-spoofdom as a performer (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2), has jumped right in. But this roast needs a more knowing cook.
Wayans, who's also one of the film's writers and producers, and Essence Atkins play Malcolm and his girlfriend, Kisha, who has just moved in with him. His bachelor pad is now their dream house.
In honor of their new adventure, Malcolm has bought a spiffy new video camera, the better to document whatever's worth documenting in their new digs.
But the dream turns into a nightmare when they come to suspect that the house is haunted.
Bad becomes worse for Malcolm when he discovers that it's not the house that's haunted, but Kisha.
So Malcolm hires a priest to exorcise her -- a prison minister played by Cedric the Entertainer. Then it's a sexually predatory psychic, played by Nick Swardson.
Finally, Malcolm turns to a team of ghost hunters, played by David Koechner and Dave Sheridan, paranormal investigators shooting their own show, to help him get his life back to normal.
Wayans is a naturally funny performer and a likable presence, but his contributions under his behind-the-scenes hats fail him as an actor.
Debuting director Michael Tiddes works from a weak script by Wayans and Rick Alvarez that wears its anything-for-a-laugh desperation like a cloak, specializing in juvenile bodily-function humor, repeating every joke and gag a half-dozen times, and doing precious little if anything with the opportunity to send up a genre that's been begging for a sharp skewering.
This just isn't it, not by a long shot.
There's some inventive camerawork, respectable special effects, and a few big laughs, but nothing close to what you'd consider narrative continuity and no follow-through at all. Every time the screenplay seems to be going somewhere thoughtfully satirical, it just stops and sets up the next outrageous bit.
As a collection of late-night TV sketches, A Haunted House would still be (literally) sketchy. As a feature-length movie, it's more like retchy.
So we'll scare up 1½ stars out of 4 for the lowbrow, R-rated horror spoof, A Haunted House, while we continue to await a smart lampooning of the found-footage phenomenon that offers footage we're actually happy to have found.
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