Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Black

Making a successful, as in consistently funny, comedy film must be difficult. In so many movies, including the recently released “Fifty Shades of Black,” it seems like the filmmakers decide to take the kitchen sink approach and toss in as many components of humor: from witty social commentary to poop jokes into the pot, only to wind up with a strange brew indeed. Which is to say that there are some good laughs in this parody of the best-selling novel (and movie adaptation) “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but also a fair share of groaners.

Here Marlon Wayans stars as Christian Black, a handsome entrepreneur whose money is not entirely made in a respectable way, as he proudly explains to the naïve, virginal college student, Hannah Steale (Kali Hawk), who interviews him as a favor to her crass and sassy roommate, Jenny Zigrino. Like most romantic comedies, it is far from love at first sight, but soon enough Kali is waking up after a drunken (chaste) night at Marlon’s place, and starting to realize she may just have feelings for him. Of course, there’s a lot more to Marlon than first appears – and he soon gifts her with a MacBook suggesting that she do research (starting with why a college student doesn’t already own a laptop). He also delivers a drone to her apartment, as well as giving her a phonebook thick contract laying out the do’s and don’ts of their sexual relationship. As he explains to Kali via flashback, Marlon was first initiated into the mysteries of S&M as a teen by his music teacher (Florence Henderson). As a result, he now has some perverse tastes, and Kali, though less eager, eventually comes to experiment with him in his private whip and chain filled room. Their journey of exploration results in many bruises, broken apartment items, and wacky high jinks, though there’s a happy ending for the scar-crossed (sorry) pair.

Whips and chains have an additional subtext when it comes to African-Americans engaging in S&M, and this is acknowledged amusingly, when we see Marlon pass over a whip called “Django Unchained,” only to reach for the one called “Joe Jackson.” When Kali eventually persuades Marlon to turn the tables and is the one wielding the whip, she soon gets into the spirit, giving him strokes for various minority actresses who’ve been brutalized on screen, ending with “That’s for the little white girl in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'” Why? “”She had to be naked the entire time.” There’s also a direct potshot at the source material when Marlon pauses in his waterboarding of Kali – only to hit upon the biggest agony of all – reading from the novel itself. “Who wrote this – a third grader?” he quips. Sometimes you may wonder that of this movie, too, but there are some witty parts – they just take some patience to reach.

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