STARS/**** Image D Sound C+ Extras D
starring Red Grant, Reynaldo Rey, Bebe Drake, Sommore Jamal
written and directed by Red Grant
by Walter Chaw The sort of movie where Klansman dressed in the Teletubby rainbow are brutally beaten in a Southern Methodist church when they submit themselves to the mercy of the Lord, Red Grant's Family Reunion: The Movie is a scattershot Def Comedy Jam routine filmed with a noxious, hostile artlessness made all the more impotent by its desire to be whimsical. Rather than being the sort of amateurish gut-rot that can make a claim to activism through its nihilistic misanthropy and racism, it's the redheaded stepchild of the Friday series: screwball ethnic humour long on volume and short on laughs.
The extent of the film's social satire is its democratic nepotism, with Grant having enlisted family and friends to provide the awful (non-stop) soundtrack and the hate-crime performances, all of which are strung together in the sort of loose narrative (two families gather for the titular shindig) that allows Grant to play both slovenly, gap-toothed protagonist Ringworm and his evangelical brother Snake. Shot on 35mm, there's simply no excuse for this garbage to look as bad as it does, while the film finding its way to DVD is an act of amazing cynicism on the part of distributor Artisan. Cashing in on an exploitive bit of effluvium is one thing--presuming that any member of the cast still needs a copy (and that anyone outside the cast would want one) is an act of condescension and arrogance.
A fullscreen video transfer that's muted, fuzzy, and relentlessly ugly matches the worst movie I've seen in maybe five years. Whether that's a product of Artisan's hack-shop or of Grant's inarguable lack of skill in any pursuit related to this film (writing, acting, directing, producing, scoring) is hard to say, but I'd wager that the blooming and patchy transitions have a lot to do with a lack of skill on one end and of mastering care on the other. There's enough blame to go around is what I'm saying, and I wouldn't be surprised if ol' Grant gave the telecine a go. I'd be careful as well of postulating that the roughness of the piece is some sort of statement about the difficulties encountered by black filmmakers, when that way lies paternalism. What I'm willing to concede, however, is that Family Reunion isn't for me--the question of whether it's for anyone is tougher.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is spread between the front channels, a yippy dog in the first half-hour the sole occupant of the surrounds; dialogue sounds fine--the soundtrack, horrible yet, is reproduced with awful fidelity. Because this is a film that Artisan also produced, there are a sadistic amount of special features on the DVD, including a feature-length yak-track from quintuple-threat Grant. Like licking tinfoil, the track is essentially a recounting of plot, a deluded admiration for cast ("This here is the most powerful actor in the game"), and an endless string of giggles and exclamations of, "I thought that was funny," and, "Now you know you ain't never seen something like that!"--which actually is true. The commentary's worst parts among equals are the moments Grant seizes to preach on and on about how to treat one's family, how to live one's life, how a tree symbolizes a family, and more. Saying that I liked Grant better in the film is pretty much the last word on the subject.
An interview with Grant conducted by an off-screen sycophant gives Grant the opportunity to muse over questions like, "Was it challenging to play two roles and direct?"--to which Grant, too often, prefaces his canned responses with the lie, "That's a great question." A theatrical trailer set to a rap about the film probably written by Grant is hard to watch (and warning enough), and five deleted scenes stun mainly because they're not scored by Grant's excrescent hip-hop compositions. Don't watch them: in a movie that is essentially one long outtake, the bona fide outtakes are, believe me, unspeakable. I'm talking H.P. Lovecraft, that which cannot be named, bad. Spanish subtitles and a 2.0 audio option round out the disc. Originally published: June 25, 2003.