Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

“She got more kids than Mrs. Wayans!”

Justin’s rating: I can get on board with the concept of juice. Freshly squeezed, I assume?

Justin’s review: My only connection and memory of Don’t Be a Menace’s release back in the day was noting a brief but intense burst of popularity surrounding it when it came to the video store in which I worked. I gave it a pass at the time, seeing as how (a) I was not well-acquainted with most “growing up in the hood” flicks (as this film puts it) and (b) I was deathly allergic to the Wayans clan’s sense of humor at the time. Since 1996, my loathing of the Wayans has mellowed and I’ve subsequently seen, uh, Friday. Does that count?

The field was certainly ripe for parody after a flood of urban-centered movies hit theaters in the ’90s. All of them had something important to express, but even so, certain shared tropes emerged and trends solidified. That’s a perfect storm for a spoof.

What kind of surprised me here (but shouldn’t if I had remembered the Wayans’ Scary Movie run) is that Don’t Be a Menace is a hard R. I suppose it’s fitting considering the sex, violence, and drug-infused sources, but you don’t tend to find too many parodies above the PG-13 level. So unlike other coming-of-age films with largely positive themes, this flick taps into black cinema’s exploration of hard lives in crime-ridden neighborhoods. It’s mean and rude almost all the way through, but in a winking way to say, “If it’s satire, that makes it all right, yes?”

A good spoof movie should be funny regardless of whether or not you know the original material. Call it the “Weird Al Rule.” I think it’s an absolute must that it’s this way, because otherwise you’re leaning on audience’s recollections instead of giving them a good time. So where does Don’t Be a Menace stack up in this regard? Honestly, not well.

Yes, it’s mildly amusing to follow around Ashtray, Loc Dog, Crazy Legs, Preach, and the rest through a few days in a rather demented slice of inner city. Some of the best jokes are visual gags, like a Black to the Hood poster, a giant missile (for escalation of weapon threats), or Ashtray punching out a grandma because she dared him.

But I wasn’t laughing as much as slightly wincing at the constant barrage of cursing, racist jokes, and flippant treatment of violent killings. I’ll admit that I’m not the best audience here, but I was hoping for some chuckles and silliness to pass the 90 minutes. I felt cheated in that regard.

Were these “growing up in the hood” movies ripe for parody? No doubt, and the modest success of Don’t Be a Menace shows that the Wayans had a good sense of timing. But maybe they weren’t the most discerning filmmakers to tackle the fine line that had to be walked here.

Didja notice?

  • A trailer for the film included the tagline, “It’s the only movie released this year with fourteen words in its title”
  • The mom ready on a moment’s notice to wail about her shot kid — until she realizes that’s not her child
  • Ack nobody wants to work Eddie Murphy’s security detail
  • Candy for breakfast
  • Sega Genesis name drop
  • Carjacking an ice cream truck
  • “Even though we were free, we were still slaves… in the mind.” “MESSAGE!”
  • Crazy Legs’ crazy legs

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