Mad respect for an underrated cult classic
by Craig D. Lindsey
?Don?t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.? Image courtesy of Miramax.
This is probably going to be the first and last time you?ll read a 20th anniversary piece on Don?t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
Watch Don?t Be a Menace on Tribeca Shortlist now
Released at the top of 1996 by Miramax, this relentlessly ridiculous sendup of the coming-of-age ??hood movies? that were all the rage throughout the early ?90s came courtesy of Wayans brothers Shawn (who plays lead protagonist Ashtray) and Marlon (who plays his continuously strapped cousin, Loc Dog), who both co-wrote the script. (Big bro Keenan served as one of the producers.) The $4 million movie was a modest success, taking in five times that amount at the box office, and has become a staple of the ?hood cinema canon.
However, if you haven?t seen it and still need a reason to check it out, here are five of them:
1. It cracks on ALL of the ?hood movies.
With all the movies aimed at African-American youth that came out back in the day, the Wayans boys had a lot of movies to crib from. They mostly used John Singleton?s Boyz n the Hood and Allen and Albert Hughes? Menace II Society as jump-off points, mining a lot of material from those two acclaimed films. But they also take shots at those filmmakers? follow-up films as well. Singleton?s Poetic Justice and Higher Learning (Omar Epps even reprises his role from that film here) both get amusing shout-outs, while the Hughes bros? Dead Presidents gets represented in the climactic shootout. But that?s not it ? there?s also Friday, Juice, Colors, Malcolm X, etc. Basically, if there was a black movie that came out back then, they got humorously served in this flick.
2. It gives audiences a taste of the zero-f**ks style of comedy the Wayans would unleash in the Scary Movie films.
These is literally no joke left unexecuted in this movie, as it uses everything from visual gags ? there?s one scene where a woman has a water cooler full of malt liquor in her kitchen ? to elaborate, messy montages (there?s an obvious nod to 9 Weeks where Ashtray and his girl go to the fridge and use Kool-Aid & hot sauce to lick off each other) in order to make you laugh. And, of course, the Wayans clan has no qualms going extremely low-brow, churning out unabashedly vulgar yuks that?ll easily make you understand why this movie got an R rating.
3. The movie makes a point about how clich ?hood movies were starting to get.
Truth be told, this movie isn?t perfect. When it isn?t specifically making fun of ?hood movies and just doing goofy stuff, in what looks like an attempt to pad this otherwise plotless movie?s 89-minute length, the jokes miss more than they hit. But when the jokes do hit, they are surprisingly sharp. A pre-Independence Day Vivica A. Fox briefly shows up as Ashtray?s mom, who?s only there to literally remind him (and the audience) that positive, female characters doesn?t appear in ?hood movies. Even Keenan does a John Singleton-style cameo as a mailman who pops up and says ?Message!? whenever someone makes a pontificating monologue.
Shortlister Tahj Mowry?s intro for ?Don?t Be a Menace?
4. The soundtrack?s still fire.
Remember back in the good ol? days when movies had original soundtracks? This movie certainly had one. I actually still have a CD copy of it. Half of the Wu-Tang Clan ? Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Masta Killa, U-God ? starts the whole thing off with ?Winter Warz.? We also have some hardcore-rap numbers from Erick Sermon, UGK, Mobb Deep and Lil? Kim. But quiet-storm R & B also gets represented, from the likes of Joe (whose ?All the Things (You Man Won?t Do)? was quite the baby-maker), the Isley Brothers and R. Kelly. It?s almost weird to think now that a little movie like this could attract such major talent. Of course, it helped that the movie was co-produced by Island, the record label that briefly dabbled in making movies in the ?80s and ?90s.
5. BERNIE MUF**KIN MAC!
The funniest moment in the whole movie comes when the late, great Mac shows up as a cop who takes his self-loathing out on Ashtray. Aptly billed in the credits as ?Officer Self-Hatred,? Mac is there to do a takeoff on that cop-vs.- Cuba Gooding, Jr. scene from Boyz n the Hood. But when Mac, who was years away from being one of the Original Kings of Comedy and headlining his own Fox sitcom, pops up in the scene, going off on how he hates everything black ? pepper, his own gums, the back of Forest Whitaker?s neck ? it?s never not funny, no matter how many times you watch it. That alone makes this throwback spoof worth watching.
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Watch Don?t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood on Tribeca Shortlist.