Daddy, they Purgin’!” So shouts Bresha Webb, whose comic performance in the ultra low-budget Meet the Blacks is so unpredictable and versatile it virtually makes up for the film’s many dull patches. Webb, who is 28 but plays the teen daughter of Carl Black, has a range that zips from Judy Holliday-like ditz to an antic, Kevin Hart-style faux toughie over the course of just one scene. That’s probably not a good indicator of the film’s overall consistency, but considering how ridiculous this movie is, ditching credibility for the higher cause of a laugh at any price is probably the right decision. Meet the Blacks is an asinine film (though with a kernel of seriousness) but whenever it feels like it is running out of steam, something strange and surreal will happen to elevate it above a typical spoof movie.
Despite assembling a talented group of performers, director Deon Taylor and his co-writer Nicole DeMasi have aimed low. Meet the Blacks mimics the 2013 horror/action movie The Purge, which has had a bigger cultural impact than I realised. Spoof movies are frequently safe to write off, but Meet the Blacks is not A Haunted House, the wretched though financially successful Marlon Wayans vehicle that parodied Paranormal Activity. This is an angry, unapologetically gutter-mouthed nasty comedy, and while the plot may mirror something current, the vibe is more akin to classic 1970s independents such as Rudy Ray Moore’s Petey Wheatstraw. It isn’t polished, but it has an urgency.
Mike Epps’s Carl Black (who likes to shout his own name a lot) is a cable installer from Chicago who steals a giant stack of cash and marijuana from a gangster and takes his family to a mansion in Beverly Hills. His new wife Lorena (Zulay Henao) is doing her best to connect with her stepchildren Allie (Webb) and Carl Jr (Alex Henderson), who everyone calls Carl’s Jr, like the fast food chain, for reasons that are never explained. It’s probably something that happened on set and then they kept it up, because it feels like they went into this movie with about nine pages written and the faith they’d figure the rest out from there. (Carl Jr is also dressed as a vampire the entire time, but with plastic fangs and coffins made from cardboard.)
There’s also Cronut (Lil Duval), Carl’s idiot ex-con cousin, and George Lopez playing President El Bama in one ridiculous scene. When the sirens for the Purge (a 12 hour period in which all laws are suspended, and people are free to kill one another if they wish) begin, various guests Charlie Murphy and Mike Tyson (!) pop by. (Tyson’s death by power drill leads to the weirdest moment in an already weird film; someone shouts: “You killed Venus Williams!” It’s as if some of these lines were left in on a dare.)
The internal logic is non-existent. You can’t quite tell if Carl Black knew about the Purge beforehand. He clearly doesn’t understand its rules, because he’s nervous about getting caught once he starts killing his attackers. (The first to go, his daughter’s beau, is played by Vine star King Bach with a pronounced afro comb.) Meet the Blacks is no dumber than The Purge, however, and when the white neighbors start surrounding the house there’s just a whiff of social commentary about integration and gated communities. There’s also a hilarious bit where a white man feels comfortable repeating a laundry list of horrible stereotypes, but realises he crossed the line when he used the N-word, pleading for forgiveness on that transgression only.
In the end, the Blacks come together as a family to overcome obstacles. Even Allie begins to see that her stepmother, who strips down to a tank top in one sequence for absolutely no reason, has her heart in the right place. Holding back tears, Allie looks her in the eye and shamefully admits “I thought you was a ho!” before giving her a warm embrace. That’s not funny on paper, but Webb brings the house down with her selling of it. Here’s hoping we get to meet this family again in something a little less gimmicky.