2013 - 98 minutes
Written and directed by: Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant
Starring: Rob Corrdry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Kay, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Riki Lindhome
Here is a film so poorly cobbled together it seems to forget what it’s about (if anything, really) every few minutes. I don’t recall hell ever being mentioned, but there are priests, so there’s that; and there is a pregnant lady who eventually has babies, but the focus of “Hell Baby” isn’t on a baby from hell. The film – a term used loosely here – is a mishmash of vignettes that are hit-or-miss, but taken together form one large misfire. It’s a spoof movie that doesn’t target anything to spoof.
The beginning actually shows some promise with couple Jack (Rob Corddry) and very pregnant Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) moving into a ramshackle New Orleans house in a bad neighborhood they “got for a steal.” There’s an earnest conversation about cleaning the gang graffiti off the front porch and in one of the movie’s few successful gags, Jack is intent on fixing up an old lamp he found in the attic.
Alas, the dozen or so other running gags that comprise most of the runtime grow tiresome very quickly. Just a few: chain smoking priests with non-descript bad accents, a demonic-looking old lady who may or may not be a threat, boxes that stack themselves, orgasmic enjoyment of po’boy sandwiches and a neighbor, F’resnel (Keegan Michael Kay), who sidles up to Jack and startles him constantly. It turns out he’s less of a neighbor than a squatter living in their crawl space. Near the end Jack finally exclaims, “I am so SICK of being startled.” Not as sick as we are watching it, I’m sure.
I believe co-writer/directors Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon to be funny, with a high point being their TV show “Reno 911!” – a spoof of “Cops” that had a clear target and an improvised biting wit. Unfortunately, their forays into film haven’t yet captured their potential, with writing credits including “Herbie Fully Loaded,” “The Pacifier” and the Night at the Museum films. Yikes. Even in control of their material with “Hell Baby,” it remains all over the place.
Garant and Lennon also star as the aforementioned Vatican priests. It appears they were so focused on nailing their horrible accents that in the editing room they overlooked the fact that in their film the priests are summoned to New Orleans to investigate a grisly murder that hadn’t actually happened yet. Now that’s spooky.
It’s not that a crass comedy about demonic possession or hauntings needs to be as taut as an effective thriller, but some semblance of continuity or purpose is a place to start. Corrdry provides a few laughs and cops played by Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer have a dim-witted charm, but they, as with everything else in the film, is one note set on repeat for 98 minutes that feels a lot longer than that.
© 2013 by Blake Crane