If you know Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, then you’ve probably been a fan since The State or Reno 911.  If you don’t know them, then you surely must be familiar with their enormously successful Night at the Museum series.  Having made their millions with these broad family comedies, they’ve decided to get back to their absurdist sketch roots with Hell Babywhich premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  Its cast boasts some of today’s best improv and sketch comedians, including Keegan Michael Key, Riki Lindholme, Paul Scheer, as well as monsieurs Lennon and Garant themselves.  But with such a big chasm between their types of films that these two are capable of making, where does Hell Baby land?  Check out the review to find out!

 The Players:

Synopsis:

When expectant couple Jack and Vanessa (Corddry & Bibb) move into a fixer-upper in New Orleans, they discover that the house is haunted, and Vanessa is soon possessed by a demon.  In order to save her and her child from the forces of evil, they enlist the help of their new neighbor (Key),  Vanessa’s Wiccan sister (Lindholme), two detectives (Scheer & Huebel), and a pair of the Vatican’s most elite exorcists (Lennon & Garant) to rid their new home of evil spirits.

The Good:

  • Tom & Ben Unchained – MTV’s The State was ahead of its time, and still stands as a generation defining comedy program.  It was bizarre, irreverent, and hilarious.  Their later work as screenwriters for major studios, while highly successful, is definitely muzzled by committee notes and ratings considerations.  It’s exciting to see them return to the kind of esoteric and inappropriate comedy that gave them their start.  There is plenty of decidedly adult material in this film, from a send up of the bathtub lady from The Shining, to an extremely long and awkward discussion between Corddry and Lindholme as she oils up her naked body.  The gloves are off, and it’s completely clear that these guys are making the movie that they wanted to make for themselves.
  • Keegan Michael Key - This guy is the undoubted star of the show.  Key stars as a Jack and Vanessa’s “neighbor,” who is actually just  living in the crawl space below the house.  He pops into scenes randomly, providing a number of the film’s jump scares, as well as its exposition. While many of the other performers are often working for their laughs (noticeably so, at times), Keegan Michael Key has a high energy, which combined with his politeness and put-on southern accent, makes him an extremely endearing character.  He is hilarious from beginning to end.

The Bad:

  • Goofing Off - While a strong group dynamic can be extremely beneficial to a comedy (just look at any Apatow film), there’s a line that can be crossed where the actors are working to amuse each other, rather than service the film.  I’m not saying that Hell Baby crosses that line, but I will say that it comes awfully close.  Several scenes often devolve into the performers trying to one-up each other with silliness, and go on for too long.  Some of the running gags are over used, and lose their effectiveness.  These include Key’s appearances out of nowhere, Lennon and Garant’s badass priests furiously smoking cigarettes, and characters loudly enjoying Po’ Boy sandwiches a la Bill Murray in What About Bob.  It just seems as if they were having so much fun amusing themselves that making a consistent movie may have fallen by the wayside, at times.  It’s fun to watch, but ultimately comes at the expense of the movie.

Overall:

Hell Baby is a fun movie, plain and simple, as long as your expectations aren’t set too high (which admittedly, as a fan, mine were).  I was hoping for something resembling cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer, another The State alumni film, but that’s not quite what ends up being delivered.  There’s nothing groundbreaking or transcendent about either  comedy or horror elements, and its cinematic.  But it is at times very, very funny, and certainly a preferable option to Lennon & Garant’s Taxi or The Pacifier.  Definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 7/10