Fighting crime on a budget. Fighting crime in his underwear. The world's biggest nerd is about to become its newest hero!
As I sat down and turned on the various components of my home entertainment system, I took a few moments to take a quick trip around the horn. As a film fan, I could have been watching Gandhi on American Movie Classics. I could have been watching Bull Durham, one of my old favorites, on Bravo. Instead, I bit the bullet, switched over to the DVD player, and watched Blankman. Oh, the sacrifices I make for DVD Verdict. Well, now it's your turn.
Facts of the Case
Darryl Walker (Damon Wayans—Bamboozled, Earth Girls are Easy, Major Payne) and his older brother Kevin (David Alan Grier—Return To Me, McHale's Navy, DAG) were raised by their long-suffering grandmother (Lynne Thigpen—Shaft, The Insider, All My Children). They grew up watching Batman on TV and acting out the episodes for themselves, assisted by Darryl's endlessly inventive gadgets. Kevin eventually grew up, but Darryl lives on as a childlike dork, working in a fix-it shop and continuing to make his useless inventions. When mobsters kill Granny, Darryl decides to become a crime fighter just like his hero, Batman. Like Batman, he has an assortment of bizarre gadgets to assist him. Unlike Batman, his gadgets are assembled out of random household junk. Despite the fact that he hasn't come up with a cool name yet, and despite the fact that he has no super powers, and despite the fact that he is a completely inept moron, Darryl sets out to fight crime and clean up the city.
Also mixed up in the story is local TV news anchor Kimberly Jonz (Robin Givens—Head of the Class), who becomes Blankman's own Lois Lane. Blankman and Other Guy (a reluctant Kevin) team up to defeat the mobsters who killed their grandmother and are trying to take over the city.
Blankman starts out with a scene where Darryl and Kevin cause a toilet to overflow and flood their grandmother's house while they watch an episode of Batman on television. This scene is an apt metaphor for everything that follows. The screenplay is by Wayans, from a story also by Wayans. The end result is a torturous attempt at comedy. Most of the so-called humor revolves around Darryl, stuck in time as a dorky thirteen-year-old boy genius in a grown man's body. The rest comes from Kevin's overwrought response to Darryl's adventures, and the requisite collection of flatulence and penis jokes—lots of penis jokes. These jokes are grafted onto scenes that could have come from the Batman TV show. In one scene, our heroes (such as they are) are trapped in a glass tank that is slowly filling with water. It's standard Batman campy suspense/cliffhanger material, until Darryl's trusty robot J5 shows up and drills two holes in the glass to drain some of the water off. Of course, the holes are exactly at crotch level on Wayans and Grier, so the visual we get is of our two heroes taking a tremendous leak. Hilarious stuff, that. Topping that is the "Speculum of Life," a motorized contraption that Darryl/Blankman uses to open the doors of a stuck elevator. (In case anyone misses the joke, he lubes it liberally with K-Y Jelly or something similar before use.) When Darryl and Kevin need to deliver a baby in the elevator (a situation never before captured on film, I'm certain), the sheltered and squeamish Darryl whines, "Oh no, you mean we have to see her thingy?" What a riot. Perhaps the most offensive "humorous" scene is Grandma Walker's funeral, where Wayans overacts and mugs for the camera. It is a grotesque performance, and one that undermines the emotional impact of the one event that sets him on the path to fighting crime. For the audience, this scene will be painful and seem a bit sick, as the funeral is played for a laugh that really isn't there.
The overall problem here is the attempt to make a movie that is a parody of the old Batman television show. It's all here, right down to the comic book Splat! and Thud! as characters hit each other. The problem is that Batman was already a parody of the superhero genre. Where Batman is silly and corny and funny in an effortless, breezy way, the humor (such as it is) in Blankman feels forced. It takes over 90 minutes to elaborate on a joke that everyone gets and no one thinks is particularly funny.
Blankman comes to us from Columbia TriStar. This is a two-sided disc; the movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen on Side A, and there is a useless full-frame transfer on the flip side. Picture quality is good for the most part, with nice color reproduction and solid black tones. The picture is grainy at times, especially in dimly lit scenes. Edge enhancement pops up regularly throughout the picture, and there is some aliasing. The image is for the most part crisp and solid, but does show some occasional softness. Overall, it's a competent but not outstanding transfer from Columbia.
The main audio mix is Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio on this disc is surprisingly good. The main channels come through nicely with dialogue and special effects, while the surround channels come alive with a wide variety of noises common to city life. The one glaring drawback in the audio mix is the hip-hop soundtrack which comes across much louder than any of the on-screen action and blasts the viewer.
Extra features are almost non-existent on this disc. A theatrical trailer for Blankman is provided, along with two other trailers. However, Blankman is one of those special movies where a dearth of special features is really a blessing in disguise; I would rather drive the blunt end of a railroad spike into my forehead with a ball peen hammer than, say, listen to a Damon Wayans commentary track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Blankman is mostly terrible, but there are a few bright spots that helped me get through it alive and mostly sane. The first one is Robin Givens. We haven't seen a lot of Robin since her stint on Head of the Class and her ill-fated marriage to Mike Tyson, but she does a good job here. Givens actually manages to convey a sense of wonder as she is pulled down the rabbit hole to Blankman's bizarre world. Her scenes with Wayans are his only decent scenes in the movie, and manage to be sweet in spite of the general idiocy going on the rest of the time.
The other small pleasure is Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, Duckman, Shallow Hal). He turns up as Kevin's boss, the producer of a hard-hitting tabloid TV news show. Alexander is in full Duckman histrionic mode as Mr. Stone, a gung-ho, wheelchair-bound vet with loads of hard-nose attitude.
Blankman is a complete waste of time and energy, and manages to make the characters and everyone around them look like complete imbeciles. The people who get so worked up about a CGI character in a distant galaxy could perhaps look a little closer to home and direct some of their ire towards people like Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier.
Guilty. Blankman may claim to be a crime fighter, but it's really just a crime. Columbia TriStar gets off with a hung jury for an adequate DVD of a less-than-adequate flick.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Blankman Theatrical Trailer
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