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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Fifty Shades of Black (Blu-ray)
Fifty Shades of Black (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // April 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 4, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Reviewing a comedy is often a little tougher than a film from any other genre, because comedy is subjective, and many comedies, especially dumb ones, may not have much to pick apart. For this reason, reviewing spoof comedies is even harder: most operate like live-action cartoons, removing the likelihood of consistency, altering the parameters of what constitutes a good performance, and doubling down on the idea that there's not much to do but recount the movie's gags. For these reasons, I'm almost thankful that Fifty Shades of Black is likely to be among the ten worst films I see in 2016, because at least the many ways in which the newest Wayans spoof fails offer me something to write about.

Obviously, Black takes its cues from Grey, the BDSM Twilight fanfic turned unexpected literary and cinematic blockbuster. Marlon Wayans plays Christian Black, a rich and powerful entrepreneur, who has agreed to an interview with a college newspaper reporter. When the reporter in question (Jenny Zigrino) decides to stay home, she enlists her innocent roommate Hannah (Kali Hawk) to take her place. Hannah is constantly being told by people that she's frumpy and unattractive, and she believes it, but pushes back against Christian when he becomes too mean-spirited. Hannah's rebelliousness intrigues Christian enough to humor her attraction to him, but he refuses to engage in a real relationship with her even as they engage in a sexual relationship so outrageous, Christian wants Hannah to sign a contract outlining their boundaries.

For all intents and purposes, are three jokes in Fifty Shades of Black, and the first one's right there in the title: the characters in the movie are black stereotypes, exaggerated and played for comic effect. When we first meet Christian, there is a montage of him going through a stereotypical rich person's itinerary -- an early morning jog, a suit fitting, valet service -- only for him to snatch a purse, steal the suit, and drive off with the car. A montage of Christian introducing previous lovers to his "Red Room" includes a woman who screams "Hell to the no" and tells him, "You need to find Jesus." Christian and Hannah choose to work their problems out with exaggerated stereotypical hand-waving and "clap back" instead of "talking things out like white people", and one lengthy bit (no pun intended) is centered around the size of Christian's brother's member. When dealing with the quirks of Christian and Hannah's unconventional relationship, the movie is basically turns into the hackneyed "but black people act like this" counterpart to the original Fifty Shades' "White people act like this."

Moving down the checklist from stereotypes, there's quite a bit of good old-fashioned physical and verbal abuse. As seen in the trailers, one of the payoffs of the Magic Mike bit is when Christian lifts a fat lady up, her crotch in his face, and then falls backward. Hannah, like the characters who inspired her, is notoriously clumsy, ramming her face into doorjambs and getting her head stuck in the closing elevator doors. The Whiplash scene features about as much slapping as the one that inspired it, and there are plenty of jokes stemming from the BDSM play that Fifty Shades' reputation is built on. Finally, spoofs contribute the third and final ingredient. Although Fifty Shades stays more or less on target compared to the "whatever's popular" kitchen sink of the Scary Movie franchise and efforts by Seltzer and Friedberg, Wayans and co-writer Rick Alvarez also drop in sequences ribbing Magic Mike, Whiplash (featuring a Florence Henderson cameo), and 12 Years a Slave.

On the surface, most of the material is just limp, going for broad, audience-reaction comedy rather than an actual attempt to pick apart the inherently funny hypocrisies of the source material. The script's reliance on stereotypes, gross-out physical gags, and general cruelty gets tiresome quickly, committing to the easiest and most obvious jokes, and most of the spoof elements of the movie fall flat because the film is too erratic and hyperactive to set a scene up properly before it pulls the rug out from underneath it. Wayans mugging is especially tiresome compared with Hawk's comparatively measured performance. Worst of all, the original Fifty Shades is already a minefield when it comes to sexual politics and ethics, and this Fifty Shades leans right in, even including an incredibly uncomfortable sequence where Christian pretends to use a condom while Hannah is blindfolded. Yuck.

The Blu-ray
Although the cover art for Fifty Shades is mostly unremarkable, featuring a lineup of the cast and the movie's title, the appearance of an "Unrated" stamp on the front cover is deviously misleading. How many will see the fine print underneath that says "deleted scenes"? Deleted scenes are generally unrated, so the shout-out feels kind of like a bait-and-switch. The one-disc release comes a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is an insert featuring an UltraViolet digital copy code. The entire package slides into a glossy slipcover. Online art features a pair of sexy legs in the foreground, but they are nowhere to be found on the actual artwork.

The Video and Audio
Fifty Shades of Black arrives on Blu-ray with a 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that are both pretty run-of-the-mill for the modern, digital era. Colors are generally vivid and appear accurate, skin is nicely textured, and the transfer handles itself well in shadow and low light. There is a slight digital flatness to it, but it's a minor issue. Sound is mostly reserved for exaggerated cartoon sound effects and dialogue, although there is the occasional bit of music. Hard to call it immersive, but it does have a crispness and clarity that sound accurate. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
A couple of extras are included. A reel of deleted scenes (9:35) includes a montage where the premise of the joke is that Christian does not take advantage of Hannah while she's passed out drunk, another where the punchline is a family he has tied up in a closet, and one that is just a series of period euphemisms, complete with a capper where Christian yanks a tampon from Hannah's vagina. There is also a featurette, "Meet Mr. Black" (1:31), in which Wayans admits right off the bat that making Christian Grey a black man was the basic joke.

Trailers for Triple 9, Dope, Rock the Casbah, and A Haunted House 2 play before the main menu. No trailer for Fifty Shades of Black is included.

Fifty Shades of Black has a reasonably juicy target for a spoof movie, but flubs it in favor of easy comedy about people getting smacked around and bodily fluid gags. Skip it.

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