SEPTEMBER 8, 2013
As a fan of killer kid/baby movies, something is clearly right in the universe if we are blessed with not one but TWO such movies in a short period of time. Unlike Bad Milo, Hell Baby is more about the pregnancy than the birth, limiting the time we spend with a little demon puppet (once again practical, yay!), but folks are still likely to mix them up in conversation. After all, not only are they more comedy than horror, but they both feature The State alum (Ken Marino in Milo; several in this), comedian Kumail Nanjiani, and a beautiful blond wife (Gillian Jacobs there, Leslie Bibb here). Even if they weren't being released a few weeks apart, the similarities would be worth noting.
Luckily for audiences, they're pretty different when you dig down into it. For starters, in co-writer/co-director Thomas Lennon's own words, Hell Baby is "pointless", opting for more laughs and absurdity where Milo actually had a metaphor and a bit of a life lesson mixed in with its laughs. Thus, and opinions may vary, I found this to be the funnier of the two, because they were able to cut loose and do whatever the hell they wanted, without having to worry about keeping it grounded so that the point wasn't lost. I enjoyed Milo, but as I said in my review it felt like it needed a few more big laughs - this doesn't have that issue.
Interestingly, my good friend Ryan hated this one and found Milo to be much funnier, so your mileage may vary. There's definitely a tendency here to indulge in the sort of dragged out joke that's funny, unfunny, and funny again (think Sideshow Bob and the rake on Simpsons), so if you find that sort of thing never manages to get back to funny, you might have trouble with this. But you'd be missing out on a lot of other classic bits; Lennon and cohort Ben Garant also play a pair of chain-smoking exorcists, and their scenes (particularly the ones where they play off of Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer as a pair of cops) never stopped delighting. Honestly, I didn't even care much about Bibb and Rob Corddry as the expecting couple - I would gladly watch an entire movie of this quartet solving mysteries and eating PoBoys.
The rest of the cast is terrific too; Nanjiani plays a hapless cable guy who inadvertently gets roped into the movie's obligatory seance, and I'd kill for another scene with Lennon/Garant's exasperated boss, who finds their reports to be too detailed. But the real treasure is Keegan Michael Key (from Key & Peele; I believe he's Key) as the couple's neighbor who invites himself inside every few minutes, knowing nothing about personal space or boundaries. Every single thing out of his mouth at LEAST elicited a smile out of me, and he singlehandedly improved any scene with the hero couple.
Now, there's nothing wrong with either actor, and they get a few good lines as well, but as this is more of a comedy, the narrative of Bibb's possession is sloppy at best. She just turns quietly evil all of a sudden, and Corddry's attempts to find out what is going on are half-assed and generally uninteresting. Sometimes a horror comedy will actually make the effort to deliver a full mythology or backstory to what's going on, but this is just an excuse to rope in more hilarious supporting characters (i.e. the exorcists). So if you're not enjoying their brand of humor, there's no reason to stick with it - it's not going to satisfy your inner horror fan, either (except, again, for the practical puppet - and what looks to my eyes like all practical blood too). Save for a quick bit involving the couple's would-be doctor, there isn't any real violence or carnage until the last 10-15 minutes, when the demon baby is born and wreaks havoc (in a sequence that goes on a bit too long, admittedly) - the comedy takes precedent over the horror even more than in Milo.
My only other issue was that the dog was a red herring. They set up an evil dog, clearly inspired by The Omen, but then basically forget about it and shrug it off at the end when they're wrapping up other subplots. At first I was impressed that they did their homework (or at least remembered the trailer), but I was disappointed that it was a go nowhere issue. In a way it ties into the overall "who cares? LAUGH!" approach, but its wrapped up on a non-joke, which makes it stick out to me. The final gag is also drawn out and not particularly funny, featuring someone getting hit by a car after talking about how lucky he is, though the FIRST bit with the car driver (30 minutes before) is one of the best bits in the movie, so I can't blame them for trying to recreate that magic.
I actually almost saw this at Comic Con; I was seated for a screening only to discover that an event (read: party with lots of free food/booze) that I thought was starting at 9 was actually starting at 8, and thus I had to leave so I wouldn't risk being too late to get in (some events there get crowded and then the fire marshal shuts down the entrance, even if people leave no one new can get in). And of course, the party a. didn't get too crowded and b. kind of sucked, so I should have just stayed. It's definitely a movie that would play well with a crowd, but in a way it's sort of a testament to its value that I found it pretty hilarious sitting by myself watching it on my computer. Thus, even though I usually champion seeing with a crowd on the big screen, the theatrical release appears to be a joke and thus there won't be a crowd anyway, so fire up your VOD service of choice and enjoy!
What say you?