6 Things I Learned Watching Every Wayans Bros Movie In A Day
It's almost one o'clock in the morning. I'm ten movies deep into an 11-movie Wayans Brothers marathon that began at 7:15 a.m. the previous day. I'm watching Little Man. I'm tired. I'm angry. My face looks like this:
How did I get here? We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by my co-Wayansthoner Jeff May, and Aaron Covington, co-writer of Creed, the next installment in the Rocky franchise. Okay, so here's what happened.
Why The Wayans Brothers?
"I should watch every Wayans Brothers movie in a day or something." It started as simply as that. During a conversation about wanting to do something different for my next column, I threw out that idea. I wasn't really serious, but it didn't matter. Almost immediately, the person I was having the conversation with, my friend Jeff May, a comic you may remember from almost dying in this column once ...
The main reason I avoid 12-step programs is that they'd probably make me apologize for this.
... said that this sounded like a great idea. So much so that he'd even watch them all with me. Get paid to watch movies and see a friend suffer? Sign me up! With that, it was settled: We were going to embark upon a Wayansthon.
But why? That's the question people had after hearing about the plan, but I think "Why not?" is just as valid. As a person who eventually took up comedy as a career, the Wayans family is hugely important. I was 14 when In Living Color first aired. You won't be at all surprised to know that Saturday Night Live was a total fucking train wreck around that time, so if we're talking about the sketch comedy I watched on television growing up, it's the characters and cast members from In Living Color that mattered.
Challenge: See if you can spot Jim Carrey in this picture.
And how about that cast? Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier ... so many careers started on that show. Jennifer Lopez was among the cast of dancers known as "the Fly Girls," as was Dancing With The Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba.
As if there's anything I can tell you about DWTS that you wouldn't already know!
To say it was successful because it was on at a time when SNL was terrible would be selling it way short, though. Keep in mind, it aired in prime time. That In Living Color managed to be way edgier than SNL in a time slot that draws significantly more scrutiny from censors is a testament to how brilliant the show was. "Edgy" is an easy thing to go way overboard with, and an even easier thing to abandon entirely if the move is deemed necessary for the sake of making money. Either direction will effectively kill a quality show after one season if its success is even tangentially related to that edginess that drew viewers to it in the first place. No show before or since has toed that line better than In Living Color.
It's also easy to forget just how hugely successful it was. This is, for all intents and purposes, the show that made Fox into a legitimately competitive network. Just like the Internet, Chicken McNuggets, and so many other things that kids these days must think have been around forever, Fox barely existed in 1990, the year In Living Color first aired. One of the network's first acts of aggression in the name of establishing its presence as a legitimate competitor to the Big Three (NBC, ABC, CBS) was to run a special live episode of In Living Color in direct competition with the Super Bowl halftime show. It drew 25 million viewers, enough to make it the most successful attempt at Super Bowl counterprogramming to date. Damon Wayans flashed a nipple at one point.
So ... there. Why wouldn't I watch every Wayans Brothers movie? The show that made them famous also happens to be one that was hugely influential during my formative years. They've done a lot of things since then, and I'm not so romantic that I won't admit to being among the countless fans who assumed things had gone completely off the rails once stuff like White Girls and Little Man started coming out.
We have some catching up to do, is what I'm saying. That they'd be one of the first choices for an endeavor like this shouldn't be that surprising.
Deciding What Constitutes A "Wayans Brothers" Movie Is Tricky
With a motive firmly established for the crime I was about to commit against my patience and sanity, it was time to set some ground rules. I mean, we couldn't just watch every movie that somehow involved a member of the Wayans family, no matter how much I wanted to see The Last Boy Scout again.
Covering all of those bases would probably take a week or more. That's definitely not enough time to traverse every episode of every television show they've ever made. In addition to In Living Color, there's all those seasons of My Wife And Kids, the Damon Wayons sitcom that aired on ABC. And there are more. It would be an ordeal, no matter how good any of those shows may be.
If you think I didn't want to watch Waynehead, you're out of your mind.
So how to narrow it down? Fortunately, the always-reliable Wikipedia came through with this list of productions featuring more than one member of the Wayans family. After cutting TV shows, we threw in the added stipulation that a Wayans had to be one of the central characters in the film. This knocked Hollywood Shuffle off the list. If you're unfamiliar, that's a movie Keenan Ivory Wayans co-wrote with Robert Townsend, who played the lead role. Wayans used the money from that success to fund the production of I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the 1988 blaxploitation parody that made the family a household name -- and which would also serve as the starting point of #Wayansthon2K15.
It's all fun and games now ...
Actually finding the movies presented another challenge altogether. Because I do nothing if it's not at the last minute, I didn't have time to find DVDs (or a DVD player) or any such luxury. I was also determined to not turn to Internet piracy, because that would be shitty of me. That meant exploring the various streaming video services. While I did find a few available on Netflix and sites of the like, I also ended up paying for some, meaning images like this one are indelibly etched on the permanent record of my online activities that's stored at whatever government facility currently handles that kind of thing:
I was sure this would trigger a fraud warning.
Right, I paid money for Major Payne. I submitted the receipt on an expense report for reimbursement from Cracked. The company wept.
Finding some movies called for even more extreme measures. For example, the only place I could find the Keenan Ivory Wayans vehicle A Low Down Dirty Shame was on Showtime ...
Only the hottest Hollywood hits!
... which I subsequently had to subscribe to through Hulu. Well, I could have just rented it like all the others, but I haven't seen a lick of the second season of Penny Dreadful, so two birds with one stone, you know?
They Are Incredibly Efficient
Aside from exercise or staying the fuck in bed, 7:15 a.m. is a weird time to do just about anything. Nevertheless, that was the time on the clock when we began our journey. As stated previously, we started with I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. That was welcome news, seeing as how it's one of their best movies. Also, I'd only had three hours of sleep.
For what it's worth, Jeff is incorrect here.
I admit that was poor planning on my part, so starting with a movie that I actually wanted to see went a long way toward keeping me from passing out 30 minutes into the quest.
For the record, if you've never seen I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, do so as soon as possible. It's a parody of all those blaxploitation flicks you undoubtedly watched with your parents as a child, like Dolemite or Shaft. It's a movie I first discovered, much like any other white kid who grew up in the Midwest, from watching BET all the time. There's a song on the I'm Gonna Git You Sucka soundtrack called "Jack Of Spades," and I used to see its video all the time after school.
I could tell a lot of the video consisted of scenes from a movie, but I had no idea what that movie was about. I asked my parents to rent it, and because my sister's antics caused them to tire of actually doing that job years prior, they had no problem at all with the idea. I was 12 at the time. They also let me go see N.W.A. in concert that year. Ice Cube was still a member of the group. The point I'm getting at is that I'm quite old.
Anyway, In Living Color followed not long after Keenan's first attempt at handling everything on his own, and the family's place in history was secure, even if they'd never gone on to do anything else. They did, though! So much more. For example, the next movie in our Wayans marathon: the 1992 hit Mo' Money ...
... starring and written by Damon Wayans. Whom I actually met a few times at the comedy show I produce in Santa Monica. No big deal, you probably did too. This movie also marks Marlon Wayan's first appearance as a prominent character in one of his family's movies. Seeing as how both films are about overcoming the odds to fulfill your dreams and feature Marlon in a supporting role during different stages in life, I found it surprisingly hard to not watch Mo' Money as a prequel to Requiem For A Dream ...
Featuring "Ass to ass!" and other timeless quotes.
... making this particular trip down memory lane far more depressing than it needed to be. That, in turn, made the fact that I was already struggling to stay awake all the more problematic.
Friction this early is a bad sign.
If there was any bright side to be had, it was around this time that we noticed something encouraging about the films of the Wayans family. With very few exceptions, every single one of them is less than 90 minutes long. What that meant is that we blew through I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Mo' Money, and the hugely underrated Blankman ...
I was wrong.
... in a manner that was both efficient and, from an entertainment standpoint, quite enjoyable. It was a strong start. We were tired, but confident.
Then we got to the fourth movie.
The Bad Movies Aren't the Ones You'd Expect
It's the really silly Wayans Brothers movies that people point to as being some sort of sign of their downfall, but that's untrue for a lot of reasons. For starters, whichever movie you're talking about, look up how much money it made compared to its budget. You're surprised White Chicks got made? Considering how successful it was, you should be happy there aren't three of them by now.
In fact, that movie speaks to something that's worth noting about the filmography of the Wayans family: It's when they work within the constraints of a typical Hollywood film that their work tends to suffer. Sure, Mo' Money isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but damn what any review or aggregate score may tell you -- Blankman, at least in retrospect, is way better.
Or at least, it's more memorable, if nothing else.
These days, Mo' Money just sort of plays like a typical early '90s comedy. Blankman, on the other hand, is borderline insanity set to really great jokes. Against all odds, that movie has aged as well as or better than anything else they've made.
For an example of them playing by the rules and coming up short, look no further than A Low Down Dirty Shame. This was the fourth movie in our marathon, and holy shit was it so much worse than I expected. In fact, I think I remember not hating this movie when I saw it back around the time it was released. I don't remember well enough to confirm that, though, and that doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Like Mo' Money, it's just kind of a typical '90s comedy, but whereas that movie starred Damon Wayans, this one has Keenan Ivory Wayans in the lead role. Huge difference. Just a massive, gigantic difference. Damon Wayans is enough of an entertainer that he can make a marginal film at least sort of entertaining. In A Low Down Dirty Shame, Keenan makes a boring movie almost unbearable to watch.
There's a joke about the post office not even 15 seconds into this trailer, which I mention for no particular reason.
That movie, presented back to back with the also formulaic and equally terrible Major Payne, made the middle part of this marathon one of the most brutal stretches of all.
Just such a nightmare.
It was early afternoon by this time. We'd already ordered pizza and consumed most of it, which did nothing to quell anyone's desire to sleep for eight consecutive hours. This was starting to seem like a terrible idea, and by that I mean that it always did, but the harsh realities of following through with it were now crashing down all around me. But just when all hope for success seemed to be lost, things turned around.
Their Parodies Are Underrated Classics
Fortunately, with the sixth film, we entered into a string of classics that we'd been looking forward to all day. The first of them being the fantastic Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, which busy people on the go have taken to just calling Don't Be A Menace over the years. It's a spoof of the influx of "life in the hood" movies that gained popularity after gangsta rap rose to prominence in the late '80s and early '90s -- films like Colors, Boyz N The Hood, and Are We There Yet.
I might be wrong about one of those.
This was the family's first shot at a full-on parody since I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and it represents the Wayans working within their wheelhouse. They do parody films better than anyone, and the reason for that is really simple: They write good jokes.
Who can forget this famous bit involving Marlon Wayans, a nuclear warhead, and a mail truck (which I mention for no reason at all)?
The Scary Movie franchise works as a great example of the difference this makes. They were only involved in the first two movies, which are both pretty great. In the later films, the "jokes" mostly consist of lazy pop culture references, most of which will make absolutely no sense to most viewers in ten years or so.
I suspect this is at least partly out of necessity. These movies are meant to spoof a particular genre, which makes for a limited range of material to work with. No matter what type of film you're talking about, it's going to have a finite number of cliches or tropes that apply to it. Once you run out of stuff like that to make fun of, the comedy starts feeling forced and pointless. A Wayans parody actually says something about the genre it's making fun of, and when they've mined all of the available material, they move on. That the Wayans family stepped away as the principal writers/directors after Scary Movie 2, at a time when the franchise was at the height of its success, speaks directly to their understanding of how this kind of movie is supposed to work, not to mention their integrity as filmmakers.
That I hadn't slipped into a coma on my couch before reaching the end of these movies, on the other hand, speaks directly to just how well-executed and entertaining they are. Well, that and the fact that at some point during this stretch, my friend Vanessa came over with an assortment of snacks.
And then napped, mockingly.
It was fuel we would end up desperately needing, because after the magic of that trilogy of parody films, things got tough.
Weirdly Specific Things Show Up In Their Movies
I hadn't seen White Chicks in years, which is in no way an admission that I'd ever seen it at any point in history. I've done a lot of drinking in my day. That said, I'm not drinking now, and thanks to that, combined with this experiment, a detailed memory of this film will be with me forever. It would take an entire article to go over the highs and lows of that movie. It's way funnier than you'd likely expect, especially the performance delivered by Terry Crews, but it's shitty in a lot of other ways that, after having watched 12 solid hours of movies without moving, I didn't have the mental energy to process.
By the time we got to Little Man, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, I was angry.
Go on without me.
By this point, my understanding of what was happening on the screen in front of me boiled down to noticing the weird, minor details that seemed to be popping up in every film. It was like playing that game where you try to spot something that starts with each letter of the alphabet on a long road trip to keep yourself awake, except in this version, you don't die if you fall asleep -- you just stop watching a terrible movie. And make no mistake, Little Man is exactly that. At one point, there's a gag about Kerry Washington getting sexually assaulted by a baby.
It's bad times. So in the name of pretending it wasn't happening, the various participants of the Wayansthon, which by that point had long been just myself and Jeff again, discussed any little quirks we'd noticed during this excursion.
One thing we couldn't help but make note of is that, for some reason, they seem to have a bit of an obsession with the United States Postal Service. It starts way back with I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which features several jokes about "going postal," continues through Don't Be A Menace, in which Marlon Wayans literally drives a mail truck and Keenan Ivory Wayans plays a mailman who pops in to say "Message!" whenever something of social importance is happening onscreen ...
One of the most ringtone-worthy moments in film history.
... and continuing through pretty much every other film, where you'll find at least one joke about the mail, no matter what the subject matter of the movie may be. Is there one in the last film we watched, the 2009 parody Dance Flick? Probably, but damn if I had the attention span to find out for sure by the time we got around to watching it. I did stay awake, though, which is more than I can say for Jeff.
This was mostly jealousy talking.
Still, it wasn't the kind of awake that would allow me to give you any information as to whether the weird post office theme continues with that movie. We'd started this marathon at 7:15 a.m. the previous day. By the time Dance Flick was wrapping up, it was after 1 a.m. That movie could have been about me and I wouldn't have noticed. I know there was dancing and comedy, but that describes a lot of things in my life.
The marathon finally came to an end around 1:15 a.m. Despite already being half asleep, Jeff promptly drove home to Burbank, because I only allow him to appear in this column on the grounds that he legitimately endangers his life in some way. As for me, I went to bed with a newfound appreciation for the work of the Wayans family, and woke with a sleep schedule that still hasn't been completely restored to normal.
I will never do anything like that again. Probably.
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