DysFunKtional Family (R)
Self-serving as they sometimes are, I stand in support of the comedy concert film. Like so much of our best entertainment, it has largely fallen under the dominion of HBO, but it's worth trekking to the multiplex for what is arguably the most basic form of human entertainment: vocal storytelling.
Any comedian worth watching will set you back forty bucks, so a filmed version is cheaper than the real thing, better than nothing and usually preferable to a sanitized Tonight Show guest spot.
DysFunKtional Family's star Eddie Griffin couldn't last a minute on network television, however, as he uses profanity with the same insouciance that others use oxygen. The problem is that for all his badass cussin', Griffin's street hustler routine rings false, and is funny only in spates.
If an intelligent adult must cling to a given word, using it twice in the lion's share of their sentences, it should give one pause. When this word is "dude" or "hella" it's merely annoying snowboarder-speak. But when it's as loaded as the "n" word, it's an entirely different problem. Having taken a 100-level sociology course I realize that such rhetorical forms of "resistance from the margins" exemplify the oppressed appropriating the discourse of their subjugators. Griffin's spraying of the "n" word does not make him subversive. Rather, it heightens the sense that he is pandering in more-ghetto-than-thou fashion, to his hometown audience, lest they should think he has sold out to Hollywood.
Perhaps you're wondering who Eddie Griffin is and why he merits his own movie. According to The Internet Movie Database he appeared in the soon to be cult classic, Undercover Brother, as well as neo-Blaxploitation films such as Double Take and the forthcoming My Baby's Mama.
Don't get me wrong--Griffin is funny and clever. It's evident in the lovingly detailed impressions of ghetto psychologists, (i.e., liquor store drunks), and his apoplectic, tough-love mother, who sits front and center exuding palpable discomfort when her son extols the virtues of cunnilingus.
Yet Griffin doesn't delve into anything much deeper than a stated dedication to various sexual acts, and nostalgia for the halcyon days when parents smacked their children. "We need some drive-by parenting," he barks. Banking on a posture more than any insight or political stance, Griffin broaches taboo topics around sex and family, but for no apparent reason beyond run-of-the-mill shock value.
Apparently Miramax is of the mind that its Ebonically correct spelling of "DysFunKtional" will endear the film to African-American audiences. However, Griffin's "dysfunktional" family is his most interesting facet. The short documentary-style diversions with his family and friends provide both relief from and depth to his unenlightened fulminations.
Take Griffin's Uncle Bucky, an ex-con and recovering heroin addict. Driving through Kansas City's beleaguered neighborhoods provides a social context to what made Griffin who he is. And then, for shock and awe, there's his Uncle Curtis who shows pornos to guests like they were slides from his trip to Yellowstone. (He's also the proud owner of a photo album devoted exclusively to female genitalia.)
Comedy concert films are a test of a director's restraint because it's really not about them. Unfortunately, director George Gallo believes that his audience is incapable of observing an uninterrupted image for more than three seconds. The editing is insufferably schizophrenic and the myriad visual and sound effects do nothing but trumpet the filmmaker's vote of no confidence in his star. It's a vote I'm reluctant, but willing, to cast myself.
-- John Dicker