Fifty Shades of Black

Marlon Wayans slips a "Magic Mike" spoof into his "Fifty Shades of Grey" parody.Open Road Films

‘Fifty Shades of Black’
Michael Tiddes
Stars: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Fifty Shades of Black” isn’t very good, and it might not even be better than the film it’s sending up. It’s a parody of the dreaded (but sometimes sly and even quietly, intentionally funny) picture made of the even more dreaded amateur-hour fan fiction that inexplicably and disturbingly became a mega-bestseller. It’s spotty and sloppily made, with the kind of patchy editing that sometimes kills yuks that weren’t funny to begin with. And it’s prone to too obvious gags, including ones made by everyone, including your mother, who once texted you that she read the book. A spoof should inspire writers to dream up with gags no one else thought up; no one needs the millionth repeat that its mousy heroine somehow made it to senior year in college without owning a computer.

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But here’s the “but”: It’s more goofy than nasty, with a childlike glee that softens its dumb-dumb jokes (fat jokes! gay jokes! a listless #BlackLivesMatter namedrop!) while making its good-dumb jokes even more likable. It’s the latest from Marlon Wayans, who seems to exclusively make cheap parodies now, and even for him “Fifty Shades” is low-hanging fruit. But he and his cowriter, Rick Alvarez, find a reason for it to exist. In between expected occurences, like its mousy heroine, Hannah (Kali Hawk), hungrily fellating a pencil, they send up the very idea that readers would find its sociopathic and abusive hero romantic.


Wayans’ Christian Black (heh) isn’t some reserved, self-serious dreamboat-psycho played by an actor who can’t deliver a line. His Christian is full-tilt-boogie crazy, and Wayans flexes his facial muscles into wacky contortions to make him powerfully unattractive. He doesn’t beat around the bush: In its version of the scene where our female lead awakes in his bed after a black-out drunk night, in jammies she never put on, Hannah asks if he undressed her. “I sure did!” he chirps. His deflowering ends instantly, with a mutating O-face that lasts 10 times longer than the act itself. Then he tells her to make him a giant sandwich.

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Hannah isn’t some submissive who will take this lying down. Hawk, who’s just as game and even more winning than her co-star, nails “Grey” lead Dakota Johnson’s precise mix of awkwardness and furtive intelligence. She’s also more active and confident, loudly challenging Christian at every turn, quick to point out he’s a freak, and one that can simply be fixed. “Black” might not be feminist per se, and it’s not saying anything that Jezebel writers haven’t been saying for years. But it’s something else to glean this message in a lowbrow spoof boasting a scene where its male lead busts out his massively swollen nutsac.

That’s to say this is still a movie that will “go there” — “there” being jokes that are stupid even by the low standards of stupid shock comedy. And it’s a movie that lacks real discipline. It will do anything for a laugh, which makes it endearing: Wayans has a knack for silly, couldn’t-resist non-sequiturs, like jokes about Jenga, pan flutes, Cuba Gooding Jr. movies and even a leftfield “Whiplash” spoof. (A leftfield spoof on “Magic Mike” fares less well.) That also means it only fitfully becomes a focused commentary on a seriously dodgy hit film that was forced, by the needling of its author at every stage of production, to offer up the book’s queasy regressive message with a straight face. “Grey” deserved a concentrated attack. It gets a scattershot one, though one that’s ultimately, mostly, on the side of the angels. With a pretty funny-tasteless joke about Joe Jackson’s whipping belt.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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