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Review: '50 Shades of Black'

Director Michael Tiddes' film includes a lot more on-screen speculation about what an African American audience might want to see, as opposed to just showing them.
SHADY COMEDY: Kali Hawk and Marlon Wayans lampoon '50 Shades of Grey' in '50 Shades of Black.'

It's a movie you wanted attacked, and with a good angle of attack, too—50 Shades of Grey was rather beige. 50 Shades of Black has a white element to its presentation; director Michael Tiddes' film includes a lot more on-screen speculation about what an African American audience might want to see, as opposed to just showing them. As the adventures of Daffy Duck prove, there's nothing like seeing a sitting mallard get blasted with both barrels. Marlon Wayans (ingratiatingly wimpy) and Kali Hawk (with bangs and clumsy sweater) act out the Beauty and the Beast rituals of "Christian Black" and "Hannah Steele."

As her roommate is ill, dowdy Hannah has to go interview the Seattle plutocrat. (Sample question: "You have mad stacks of cash. How did you get it, and can I have some?") Soon, Hannah is learning the hard way about the millionaire's odd habits in the bedroom—including a Dr. No-style tarantula on the midriff, and some straight-up waterboarding (with the plutocrat perv screaming, "Where is bin Laden?").

The poor Christian is the victim of circumstance: he was never taught the meaning of love by his mean WASP adoptive parents, played by former NEA chairwoman Jane Seymour and Fred Willard. Both nice to see, even if neither gets a really good punchline in.

Preferable is the scene of how Christian became a flagellant—made, not born, since he was warped by a friend of his mom. We never saw this scene in the original Grey. Now we get to watch, with a famous old-time TV sitcom mom channeling J. K. Simmons in Whiplash.

A moment of Netflix product placement suggests the idea that this would have been better as one no-filler hour of television. Day late and dollar short as it is, this cavalcade of raunch does deliver the scenes we wanted to see, especially the rebellion of Black's unwilling slave, whose cast-iron butt and ability to kick the sadist across the room changes the story. It's a sometimes keen parody of a film that we were all assured was a major cultural moment; such as it is, it's like writer Angela Carter's definition of porn: "Art with a job to do."

50 Shades of Black
R; 92 Mins.
Valleywide


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