Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 1995 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 10th, 2011
Finally, the movie that proves that Justice isn't always Poetic, Jungle Fever isn't always pretty, and Higher Learning can be a waste of time.
Comedy, like many things, is cyclical, with fashions and styles changing as writers and audiences grow fond or tired of different kinds of laughs. There are undeniable times when comedy seems to be on the rise -- like the years that gave us Lenny Bruce or early SNL -- while other eras are comedic deadzones. The early 1990s would have been such a dead zone, with many comics subsisting on tired impressions of George W. Bush's inimitable "read my lips." However, an upstart network looking for edgy material gave birth to In Living Color, which reinvigorated sketch comedy on television while also giving us the careers of the Wayans brothers, Jim Carrey, and Jamie Foxx. The Wayans decided to parlay that success into feature film work, and their second effort was the parody flick, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. It's a decent effort that's garnered a cult following, though this Blu-ray won't keep most fans happy.
Ashtray (Shawn Wayans) is living life in the inner city. There he must grow up with all kinds of characters -- including his cousin Loc Dog (Marlon Wayans) -- while finding love and happiness in the face of racism and intolerance.
Traditionally, Hollywood has all but ignored the black demographic. Sure Hollywood is happy to sell tickets to African-American audiences, but focusing a film on a black character has usually been out of the question. It's no surprise, then, that the American independent film movement that started in the 1980s and blossomed in the 1990s included lots of voices that were previously ignored by Hollywood, black voices included. Thus, from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, audiences saw an increasing number of independent (and eventually mainstream) films focused on the African-American experience, primarily from the inner city. Growing up in the 'hood became a genre on its own. Like all genres it eventually became popular enough to be parodied.
That's why we get Don't Be a Menace. It's a mishmash of ideas borrowed from the likes of Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, and Do the Right Thing, but given the Wayans brothers' usual crazy spin. Generally, that means taking whatever happens in their source films and amping it up to eleven. For instance, whereas most films in this genre deal with a woman who has a child out of wedlock (like Rosie Perez's Tina in Do the Right Thing), Don't Be a Menace features a love interest with seven babies out of wedlock. Of course they don't know who their fathers could be. Oh, and the character is named Dashiki, because it's humorous to name an African-American character after an African garment. If that sounds funny, then Don't Be a Menace is your kind of movie.
The Wayans brothers can't get away from their sketch comedy roots, and the problem with sketch comedy is that some sketches simply don't work. This is fine on TV, where between commercials and the shorter running time the show can move from sketch to sketch easily, but with a 90-plus-minute feature film it can be difficult to stomach sketch after sketch. Also, the Wayans sometimes cleave a little too closely to their source, borrowing whole scenes and the actors in them from other films. Just putting Marlon or Shawn Wayans in a scene from another movie does not a parody make. Or if it does, it's not necessarily a funny one. That, ultimately, might be the problem with Don't Be a Menace: though it recognizes the tropes of the 'hood genre, it doesn't really have anything to say about them, preferring to reenact them rather than comment on them.
This Blu-ray of Don't Be a Menace is about as mixed as the film itself. It's transfer is a 1080i, not 1080p AVC-encode. 1080i isn't always a problem, but here it leads to some issues, including lots of interlacing artefacts like aliasing. Grain is well represented, though, and detail is generally acceptable. It's not an awful transfer, but even this film deserves better. The package claims the audio track is a stereo mix, but it's actually a DTS surround track. Like the video, it has a few problems, with a lackluster level of clarity in the effects and poor balance with the dialogue. I suspect some of these problems come from the source, but it's still not a great track. For extras we get a deleted scene, a short behind-the-scenes featurette, and a music video.
Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood is a so-so film, and likely a cult favorite precisely because it's not that great. However, fans of the film will find almost no reason to "upgrade" to this Blu-ray disc whose video and audio specs simply aren't up to snuff.
Thanks to some decent moments, it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scene
* Music Video