Last year, American poet and critic Kenneth Goldsmith wrote a treatise titled Being Dumb.
In it, Goldsmith outlined the differences between smart smart, smart dumb, and dumb dumb. Basically, smart smart is NPR and The New Yorker; smart dumb is punk rock and Samuel Beckett; dumb dumb is “rednecks and racists, football hooligans, gum-snapping marketing girls, and thick-necked office boys.”
Bracketing Goldsmith’s dips into classism and thick-neck prejudice (it’s hereditary, man), his distinctions are instructive. Smart dumb means possessing the tools of distinction and the savvy to know when to employ them. Smart dumb is cool. Smart dumb is being able to enjoy a Whopper, if not as a hamburger then at least as an idea. And in film comedy, as in life, smart dumb is the ideal. When Monty Python or Tim and Eric make a scatological joke, it’s a joke on the idea of that kind of joke.
This is not to say that A Haunted House 2, the latest comedy-horror parody film/cultural concern from writer/producer/star Marlon Wayans, is smart dumb. It’s not even dumb dumb. It’s boringly macho – from the cartoonish sex scene acrobatics to Wayans’s tendency to flex his well-honed middle-aged man bod at every turn. And racist. And sexist. And homophobic. And when it makes a scatological joke, it’s not even just a scatological joke. It’s just scatology.
A Haunted House 2 is so dreadful that it demands its own category of dumbness. There’s no way to even resuscitate it within the exalting framework of smart dumb. There’s no blinkered grad student writing a thesis called Post-Comedy and the Cinema Of Marlon Wayans. There’s no disingenuous French cinephile club that wants to mount a retrospective of Scary Movie, White Chicks and Little Man. There’s nothing to elevate, nothing to admire. Here, a penis is a “dingding,” a vagina a “box.” Even the prospect of eviscerating A Haunted House 2 as some new nadir in the ongoing Plunge of Popular Taste feels laughably pointless, like stopping on the street to sternly dress down a piece of dog plop for being precisely what it is.
Like its predecessor, A Haunted House 2 takes its cues from passably popular horror movies (The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and a splattering of other pop-culture bric-a-brac (Breaking Bad, the Kardashians) to broadly lampoon the culture it relies on for its punchlines. This is a film that trusts that words such as “Kanye” and “Craigslist” and “mojito” have some inherent comedic value.
When it’s not being actively and aggressively unfunny, A Haunted House 2 is overexerting itself, trying to find new ways to offend without offence. It’s basically a tightly packed pomegranate of boring vulgarity, repackaging the lamest racist caricaturing (all Mexicans are landscapers; all black men have big penises; all white women like black men because they have big penises) under the guise of “post-racial” tolerance. “It wasn’t racist until you clarified it,” Wayans’s character protests when a white exorcist unpacks his use of the term “you people.”
It’s just one example of the sort of clumsy juking and weaving A Haunted House 2 stumbles through in its blundering attempts to appear something other than straight-up racist, something slightly better than awful. Even the tastelessness, like the parody, is toothless, too scared to commit to its own dumb premises.
A Haunted House 2 is dumber than dumb dumb, which at least has the nerve to be unapologetically dumb. Worse, it’s Wayans dumb.