With the recent success of “The Conjuring” and other such horror films, first-time writer-directors Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s parody “Hell Baby” comes at an opportune moment. But, really, when is it not a good time for gratuitous female nudity and vomit jokes? This offensive, crass pastiche makes “Grown Ups 2” look like a paragon of wit and good taste.
First of all, and maybe this is picky, but doesn’t it cross some kind of line to set such crude, misogynist, and racist material in a flood-ravaged New Orleans district still showing signs of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina? Especially in a derelict house that still bears the X-code sign painted by first responders. Perhaps this is intended as a social commentary, as Jack (Rob Corddry) and his vastly pregnant wife, Vanessa (Leslie Bibb), have bought the property as their new home with the hopes of flipping it for profit when the area is inevitably gentrified. The two are carpetbaggers, and to confirm their liberal hypocrite credentials, they make quips about such effete topics as NPR and Banksy. However, any fear of further social or political relevance in the film vanishes when Jack picks up Vanessa to carry her across the threshold, and she pees on him.
The couple’s scheme starts to look dicey when they meet neighbors like F’resnel (Keegan-Michael Key, by default the best thing in the movie), who turns out to be a raffish African-American guy living in their crawlspace. You never know when F’resnel will pop up, scaring the daylights out of everyone, and then coming up with some crazy story that makes everyone laugh! Well, actually you do kind of know; it’s one of the film’s repeated gags, like Mrs. Nussbaum (Alex Berg), the 90-year-old crazy lady from the rest home who wanders around nude and tries to have sex with Jack. Now that’s a joke that never gets old.
Being the local know-it-all, F’resnel informs Jack and Vanessa that their house is possessed, and soon so is Vanessa, who, a la “Rosemary’s Baby,” bears the devil’s spawn. Then the Vatican joins the fun, sending in exorcists Father Sebastian and Father Padrigo (Garant and Lennon), who resemble a cross between Father Guido Sarducci and the Two Wild and Crazy Guys of “SNL,” except they’re not funny. Nonetheless, the two wacky priests provide opportunities for montages of them enjoying themselves at strip clubs, a nudity motif that culminates when Vanessa’s sister Marjorie (Riki Lindhome), stark naked, discusses New Age philosophy and Jack’s erection.
How bold and transgressive — and sure to generate ticket sales. Unfortunately, those interested in the salacious bits will have to put up with the rest of the movie. As a five-minute sketch it would have been so-so. But as a 93-minute slog through witless puerility, it seems like an eternity in hell, baby.Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.