Judge Mitchell Hattaway invites the sort of criticism Roger Ebert garnered for his review of Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
This summer, get your grill on!
This is what we get for making Barbershop a hit.
Facts of the Case
Fresh out of college, Todd Anderson (Storm P) signs a $30-million contract with the New Jersey Nets. Lady Em (Jenifer Lewis, Juwanna Mann), his mother, worries that Todd will lose his sense of family and community; with hopes of assuaging his mother's fears, Todd decides to hold a family cookout at the expansive home he has just purchased. This doesn't sit well with Brittany (Meagan Good, Biker Boyz), Todd's gold-digging girlfriend, nor is the idea well received by Mildred Smith (Queen Latifah, Taxi), the security guard/S.W.A.T.-member-wannabe who serves and protects the residents of Todd's exclusive new neighborhood.
Oh man, does The Cookout ever suck. It's poorly written, acted, and directed. Every character—black, white, or gay—is a stereotype, and the cast members spend their time either overacting or mugging (and sometimes both). It apparently took six writers (and I use that term loosely) to come up with this thing. Six. You'd think among them they could have come up with at least one funny gag, but you'd be wrong—there's not a laugh to be found. The director, Lance Rivera, is a music executive and music-video director (great, like we need another Sean "P. Diddy" Combs); you'd think a guy who cut his teeth making music videos would have at least a rudimentary sense of style, but that's not the case here (David Fincher he ain't). Rivera simply locks down the camera and hopes something will happen; I felt like shaking my television just to get a little movement. Jeez, what did I do to deserve this?
I'd like to share some of my pain with you, so allow me to run down some of the problems with the characters and their respective plotlines.
• Lady Em: This has to be one of the most annoying characters I've ever run across, and Jenifer Lewis's performance only serves to make her more annoying. Em pretty much spends the entire movie yelling at people. If she's not yelling at her son for buying an air conditioner or at his girlfriend because of her taste in pork products, she's yelling at the English butler her son hires (yes, this movie resorts to the old English butler bit) or at the two stereotypically gay European chefs hired by Brittany to cook for the family gathering. Sad thing is, Em's supposed to be the heart of the movie. I don't know about anyone else, but I find it a little hard to identify (or sympathize) with a shrieking harpy.
• Bling Bling and Wheezer: Oh, lord. Anyway, there are a couple of two-bit thugs who hatch a scheme to make a fortune by selling shoes autographed by Todd. So they round up some sneakers and head for Todd's house but crash their car after swerving to avoid a skunk. Wheezer (played by so-called comedian Ruperto Vanderpool) thinks the skunk is a cat and tries to catch it. Wanna guess what happens? Yep, you're right. C'mon, isn't it time to retire the spraying skunk gag? And get this: The writers don't even take the gag to its logical conclusion. Nobody ever comments on the stench that should be emanating from Wheezer. Alright, so Wheezer and Bling Bling (Ja Rule, Half Past Dead) eventually carjack Brittany and force her to drive them to Todd's house. They storm in, Bling Bling (who clearly has "Ja Rule" tattooed on his neck) pulls a gun—he doesn't bother to ask Todd to sign the sneakers, he just pulls the gun—and then someone gives the obligatory speech about how thugs like Bling Bling and Wheezer are ruining the black community. Yippee. Eighty minutes of crudity and then here comes the speechifying. What I don't understand is why Bling Bling gets knocked around for his behavior while the fat, dope-smoking cousins and the young woman with five illegitimate children get off scot-free. Wait, did I forget to mention the fat cousins and the illegitimate kids? My bad.
• Little Dee: Todd's baby-making-machine cousin. Yes, we've all seen this before. Little Dee (Denee Busby) has a gaggle of kids. Each kid has a different father, and the kids are little hellions. Dee is constantly on the lookout for a daddy for her kids, and she thinks she's going to meet a rich man in Todd's neighborhood. Oh, brother. You wanna know the outcome of all this? A badly Photoshopped photo of Shaquille O'Neal. Ugh.
• The two fat cousins: Todd has a couple of overweight cousins who show up looking for some free food. Why are they fat? Because they eat a lot. Why do they eat a lot? Because they smoke a lot of weed. Willie (Jerod Mixon, Me, Myself & Irene) and Nelson (Jamal Nixon, The Nutty Professor) pull up in their smoke-filled car (a joke that actually worked in Fast Times at Ridgemont High), get out of the car, then spend the rest of the movie sitting in Todd's garage getting high and eating Doritos. Oh man, that's hilarious. It gets better, too, because Willie and Nelson (get it?) have a run-in with…
• The Crowleys: Judge Crowley (Danny Glover, Pure Luck) is a stuffy, proper, uptight (in other words, he thinks he's white) man who lives with Mrs. Crowley (Farrah Fawcett, Saturn 3), his stuffy, proper, uptight wife, in Todd's new neighborhood. They are both horrified by the arrival of, as they put it, "the negroes" and go to spy on them. Em spots them and invites them to join the party, and Judge Crowley eventually runs across Willie and Nelson. The fat boys think they're busted, but they are relieved when Judge Crowley tells them that he was a fan of the herb before he married and that he, in fact, only married Mrs. Crowley for her money. All three proceed to get high, and Judge Crowley is reconnected with his blackness. He then throws on some street clothes, starts talking gangsta, and tells his wife she won't be pushing him around anymore (when you think about it, this is sort of a perverse reversal of the arc Glover made in The Color Purple). The judge's proclamation is greeted by resounding applause from those gathered at the cookout, and his wife appears to be sexually aroused by her husband's new resolve.
• The Hillbillies: Two of Todd's hillbilly cousins show up for the cookout. The hillbillies wear overalls, flannel shirts, and straw hats and carry shotguns. They scare the two gay chefs with the deer carcass they're carrying, and then they pretty much vanish from the movie.
• Grandpa: Todd's grandfather arrives for the cookout with a baseball bat in his hand. Why's he carrying a bat? I don't know, because nothing's ever made of the fact that he has the bat. I guess somebody thought the idea of him carrying a bat was funny enough, so no explanation was needed. If that's the case, then somebody was wrong.
I could go on and on, but I'll stop. I would, however, like to mention a few more things. First, there are numerous continuity errors in this film, but my favorite is the scene in which Cousin Leroy (Tim Meadows, The Ladies Man) is somehow both inside the house talking to his aunt and outside playing cards with his uncle. Second, there's the casting of Rita Owens as Todd's money-hungry aunt. Rita Owens is the mother of Queen Latifah, and she is, to put it mildly, a non-actress. In fact, this bit of cinematic nepotism is so egregious that we now have to forgive Francis Ford Coppola for casting Sofia in The Godfather Part III. Finally, there's the whole subplot with Becky (Eve, Barbershop 2: Back in Business), Todd's best friend (whom Todd stupidly doesn't recognize because she's had her braces removed). If you can't figure out where that relationship is headed, then The Cookout is undoubtedly the only movie you've ever seen. (I know I earlier jumped on Lance Rivera for his lack of directing skills, but he's at least smart enough to shoot Becky's entrance from behind.)
Okay, so the writing, acting, and direction suck, but is there anything good about this disc? Well, yeah. The anamorphic transfer is very good, with excellent colors and black levels, although it's slightly marred by a little too much grain in a couple of shots. The 5.1 audio isn't bad, but it is a bit too restrained. Most of the time, the track is dialogue-heavy, but there are quite a few songs thrown in for good measure, and it's only during some (but not all) of these songs that the rear half of the soundstage comes alive (there's a scene in which everyone is outside dancing to "Jungle Boogie" that sounds freaking incredible).
The disc's extras, unfortunately, don't amount to much. You get a commentary by Storm P and Jenifer Lewis, which isn't really a commentary at all. In fact, they spend most of their time yelling at the people in the film, and Lewis (who somehow manages to bitch even more than her character does) also finds time to complain about her wardrobe. There's an uninformative making-of featurette, which is hosted by Ruperto Vanderpool (who somehow manages to be even more annoying than his character is), about ten minutes of deleted scenes, and "The Joyz of Cookin'," which is a series of about a dozen text-based recipes (including one for marijuana brownies). This looks like one of those cases in which the quantity of the extras is supposed to make up for the quality, but it doesn't work.
The more I think about it, the more I hate The Cookout. I'm going to stop thinking about it, and I suggest you don't think about it, either.
Guilty. Man, is it ever.
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Scales of Justice
• DVD Introduction with Jennifer Lewis and Storm P
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