Hell Baby | C+
As comic writers, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant are responsible for both Comedy Central’s hysterically scattershot Reno 911 (which they acted in as well) and the banal A Night at the Museum. So, to expect the comic horror Hell Baby to amount to anything more inspired than a raunchy, stoner spoof of The Exorcist is probably a failure of setting the proper expectations.
Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb) are an expectant couple moving into a New Orleans fixer-upper, unaware the house was once the scene of multiple murders. Before you can say “satanic curse,” the very pregnant Vanessa starts acting out — attracting the attention of two clueless cops (Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer) and a pair of macho Vatican exorcists (Lennon and Garant); the latter two are on a mission to stop the birth of the anti-Christ.
If the supernatural shenanigans sound awfully familiar, you can be forgiven for fearing that Hell Baby is just another Scary Movie parody. And while it sometimes shares that awful series’ desperate grab for rude laughs, this scrappy, low-budget comedy still manages to sneak in some genuinely funny shtick.
Frequently willing to abandon its haunted house plotline to indulge in a few comic digressions, the movie’s better jokes come courtesy Lennon and Garant’s posturing priests, who riff on everything from buddy-cop conventions to outrageous acts of violence and blasphemy.
When the movie focuses on their absurd exploits, it almost succeeds. Unfortunately, they are side players in Jack and Vanessa’s domestic demonic meltdown. While Corddry and Bibb are fine comedic actors, the script gives them too little to work with, often relying on seen-it-a-hundred-times-before plot developments.
This leaves the very best bits for Keegan Michael Key (of Key & Peele), who steals the show as a Shakespeare-quoting squatter living in Jack and Vanessa’s new home. His comic timing is beyond reproach, landing gut-busting lines in even the most mediocre of scenarios. Time and again I found myself waiting in anticipation for his next eccentric intrusion. They didn’t come often enough.
Given the dire track record of most “scary” spoofs (including crap like last season’s A Haunted House), it’s tempting to grade Hell Baby on a curve, rewarding it extra points for its inspired forays into improvisational humor — and an especially funny shower scene.
But times are tough and incomes tight, so unless you’re jonesing for a handful of belly laughs at the multiplex, On-Demand may be your best bet.
Hell Baby opens on Friday, Sept. 6; check your local listings. This movie is rated R and has a running time of 98 minutes. Watch the trailer here.