Poised somewhere between blaxploitation spoof and avant-garde freak-out, Pootie Tang qualifies as the weirdest, funniest studio release of the summer so far and a bona fide cult object in the making. (The abysmal first-weekend grosses can only help.) A sketch from HBO’s The Chris Rock Show augmented to feature length (barely), the movie stars Lance Crouther as the titular crime fighter, love machine, and hip-hop icon—an ethereally deranged vision of superfly pimp-chic (fur vest, tortoise-shell glasses, braided ponytail) and a fount of flamboyantly indecipherable pseudo-jive. Pootie’s hit film is called Sine Your Pitty on the Runny Kine. “Sipi-tai!” and “Wa-da-ta!” are his favorite interjections. It’s one of the movie’s central jokes that everyone somehow understands what he’s saying. Not that Pootie actually needs words to communicate: When he records a single consisting purely of silence (miming gospel-sized emotion while he’s at it), it becomes a massive dance hit.
Without trying too hard, Louis C.K.’s good-natured media satire lands like a ton of bricks on linguistic pop-cultural vogues, celebrities as blank slates for projection, and the commodification of ghetto fabulosity. As in Josie and the Pussycats, evil is untenably embodied by corporate America: Conglomerate head Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn) tries to steal Pootie’s magic belt (bequeathed by the late Daddy Tang, played by Chris Rock in one of his several cameos) and divert his energies from anti-malt-liquor PSAs toward ads for LecterCorp products like booze, cigarettes, and Pork Chunks breakfast cereal. While Pootie Tang shows the typical stretch marks of a skit-to-movie expansion (and doesn’t quite sustain the inspiration of its first 20 minutes), C.K. enlivens the proceedings with a befuddling array of alienation effects (alternating narrators, an explosion of intertitles), and muscles through the threadbare patches by sheer force of surreal non sequitur.
A different kind of alienation effect, Scary Movie 2 represents the collaboration of seven screenwriters, who evidently couldn’t come up with a single decent joke each. The Wayans brothers’ new bottom-feeder signals its utter exhaustion—and barely veiled contempt for the audience—by opening with that most decrepit of horror spoofs: Exorcist head swivels and projectile vomit, with James Woods’s priest reprising Jeff Daniels’s toilet break from Dumb and Dumber for good measure.
Its predecessor having vigorously despoiled the Scream and Last Summer movies, Scary Movie 2 settles for, um, The Haunting. (Or is it The House on Haunted Hill?) Evil professor Tim Curry lures a bunch of gullible college kids to a poltergeist-inhabited mansion. Chris Elliott shows up as a pustular manservant. Tori Spelling gives a ghost a blowjob. If Scary Movie was an exercise in vertiginously redundant parody, this time Wayans and company don’t so much lampoon their targets as ineptly copy them. And so the filmmakers cough up John Woo doves, Charlie’s Angels and Crouching Tiger buttkicking, a Hannibal lobotomy, a Jerri-from-Survivor reference, a parrot squawking the Weakest Link catchphrase—hoping no one will notice that the cheap thrill of recognition is a piss-poor substitute for comedy.
No less dutiful, The Score attends to its heist-thriller obligations with needless solemnity and a studious lack of imagination. Robert De Niro plays a master thief looking to settle into retirement as a Montreal jazz-club owner; his fence, Max (Marlon Brando), talks him into one career-capping job and sets him up with an impetuous upstart (Edward Norton). Perhaps awed by the congress of Method men, director Frank Oz stands back as his actors phone it in. The resulting conference call soon fizzles into a low, distant hum of access codes and safecracking physics. De Niro and Norton don’t bother to conceal their boredom, and the film’s only dubious pleasure comes from the sight of Brando waddling on screen in a series of spectacular outfits. (The kimono-cravat number is a doozy.) With the attention it lavishes on De Niro’s posh pad (all rich dark-wood tones and Restoration Hardware furnishings) and its repeatedly expressed preference for level-headed experience over reckless youth, The Score is—right down to its obligatory final double-double-cross—a triumph of bourgeois middle-aged complacency.