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Cinophile: DON'T BE A MENACE

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The Wayans have made some great spoofs in their time. They have also made some terrible ones, despite that defenders of A Haunted House will tell you. The funniest bit in that film was when Marlon Wayans figured out he can’t sell his house. But you can’t deny the Wayans dynasty their comedy chops, not with a resume that includes In Living Color, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Scary Movie.

And Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. But we’ll just stick to its popular name, Don’t Be A Menace.

Hood movies came in hard and fast during the late Eighties and early Nineties. Skilled directors such as Spike Lee and John Singleton turned their attention to the problems of the black working class suburbs, overrun with gang violence, absentee fathers, poor job prospects, social exclusion and the inequality trap that snares so many young people. These were themes chewed over time and time again in movies such as Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood, Jungle Fever, Do The Right Thing and (the fantastic) Friday. There was also a big groundswell in black crime thrillers such as New Jack City and Dead Presidents.

It was only a matter of time before someone decided to spoof that – enter the Wayans clan.

Don’t Be A Menace is a pillar of modern spoofs. During a decade where the art of slapstick was already slumping, this parody came out swinging and in true Wayans style crosses the line so far it needs a map to get back. Perhaps leaning on their cachet as black film makers, the Wayans pulled no punches. Every thematic sacred cow is dragged out and slaughtered.

There are language jokes, race jokes, sex jokes, drug jokes, gang violence jokes, armed robbery jokes… the list just carries on. By dragging its net across the genre of Hood films, Don’t Be A Menace amasses a ton of material. In fact, you could say they were shooting fish in a barrel – and that’s not entirely unfair. The movie pretty much take sup the structure of Boyz n the Hood and then picked out the best jokes from across all the above and other films.

It chronicles a young black man who has to move to the working class suburbs of Los Angeles to stay with his estranged dad. There he hooks up with his gangster-inclined cousin and they experience the prejudice and challenges that society throws against them. It is quite literally every hood movie ever made and something no other film has attempted with success.

But intention is not the same as execution. The Wayans know comedy and they know why jokes work. Don’t Be A Menace succeeds where others would have failed because it has that spark of genius. In good slapstick tradition it blends multiple disciplines of comedy into the mix: memorable one liners (“I’ll suck your d***, man!”), ridiculous characters (like the hip-hop dancing, car bouncing grandma), absolute farces (the black cop who hates everything black, even the black keys on a piano), sharp wordplay (“Pass me that s*** over there”) and absolutely classic moments (like the best weed smoking scene ever).

No spoof fan will have finished their education if they haven’t seen Don’t Be A Menace. It’s right up there next to Airplane! and Spaceballs as an undisputed hall of famer of parody.

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In the movie Marlon Wayans cracks a joke about a character having more children than ‘ma Wayans’. It’s a reference to his mother, who had a total of ten children. It’s not widely known that the Wayans are one of the most successful entertainment dynasties of all time. They tend to appear a lot in their movies: apart from Marlon, Damon and Keenen Ivory, three other people from the Wayans clan also appear in Don’t Be A Menace.
Several actors from the movies that Don’t Be A Menace spoofed also appear in the parody. Leonette Scott spoofs her character from Boyz n the Hood and Samuel Monroe Jr.’s character gets stomped exactly as he was in Menace II Society, while Toshi Toda also replays his role from that movie as a grocery store owner. Other actors also appeared in movies that this spoofed: Omar Epps had a role in Higher Learning, while Bernie Mack and Faizon Love starred in Friday.
Don’t Be A Menace was a big hit, making over $20 million for a budget slightly below $4 million – despite a general drubbing by critics. It would be one of the Wayans’ most successful movies until the Scary Movie series. Those films ended up outgrossing the movie they parodied, Scream.
The movie’s full 14-word title is Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. It’s a pastiche of several of the films it parodies: Menace II Society, South Central, Juice and Boys n the Hood.

 Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: June 1, 2015

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