Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott
Writer: Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott
Producer: Rusty Cundieff, Elaine Dysinger, Darin Scott, Jim Steele
Stars: Keith David, Bryan Batt, Lou Beatty Jr., Alexandria DeBerry, Bill Martin Williams, Martin Bradford, Kendrick Cross, Jasmine Akakpo, Kedrick Brown, Chad Chambers
Mr. Simms returns to tell four new terror tales to an entitled businessman building a sentient security robot.
Right up there near “must see” and “thrill ride,” “mixed bag” lands high on the list of overused phrases that should be regularly avoided in film criticism. “Mixed bag” particularly rankles when it comes to discussing anthologies because by definition, what else is an anthology if not a “mixed bag?”
But damn if the term doesn’t accurately describe “Tales from the Hood 2” in more ways than one.
Keith David deliciously bites the baton passed by Clarence Williams III in the wraparound role of cryptkeeper Portifoy Simms. Mr. Simms has been summoned by entitled entrepreneur Dumass Beach (say it slowly) to tell his terror tales to ‘Robo-Patriot.’ This sentient security robot features an adaptive A.I. capable of predicting potential criminal threats. Beach hopes Simms’ urban insight can teach the technology how to better target gangbangers, illegal immigrants, and other undesirables whose common characteristic involves complexion. You don’t need to have seen “Robocop” to predict how Beach’s public unveiling ultimately turns out when Robo-Patriot identifies its conniving creator as the greatest danger of all.
Simms starts by serving up “Good Golly,” where oblivious white girl Audrey and her equally oblivious black friend Zoe traipse through a roadside museum of slavery artifacts and racially offensive memorabilia like it’s a flea market of pop culture kitsch. Among the mammy mugs and sambo comics, Audrey spots a handcrafted golliwog just like the one she loved as a child. With no regard for its significance as a symbol of oppression, Audrey casually asks about purchasing the doll.
Museum curator Floyd, played by Lou Beatty Jr. with icy-eyed intensity that chills some of the segment’s silly sizzle with genuine gravitas, has no patience for dilettantes. Floyd issues an educational admonishment about respect, which from this point forward remains “Tales from the Hood 2’s” central theme.
Of the golliwog, Audrey explains, “I don’t really see it as racist, just a warm, comforting part of my childhood.” In my ears, I heard an echo of my own naïve defense of Chief Wahoo as a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. Both “Tales from the Hood” films are at their best when their commentaries sting with a dual barb of satire and reflective relevance. The sequel initially appears headed in this direction on concurrently subtle and not-subtle-at-all pathways.
Unfortunately, “Good Golly’s” deeper meaning gets lost in the visual absurdity of a suggested sex scene featuring a life-size golliwog and subsequent birth of dozens more dolls in a gushing fountain of blood. “Good Golly” means to set a specific tone, which it definitely does. The first foot forward also loses a step by making its takeaway an impression of cartoonish carnage.
“Tales from the Hood 2” runs 110 minutes when 90 would fit fine. I doubt the segment even runs that long, yet it feels like those 20 extraneous minutes could be easily excised from “The Medium.” It’s not that this short is poor. In fact, it probably ranks second overall out of the film’s five stories, including the bookends.
“Mad Men’s” Bryan Batt features as a phony TV psychic forced by three gangsters to squeeze important information from the ghost of a former pimp they accidentally killed. Batt puts up a pitched performance that entertainingly balances cynicism, showmanship, and sincerity as the fraudulent speaker for the dead. If any one actor embodies “Tales from the Hood 2’s” tone, it’s Batt.
Batt charismatically hits his character so squarely, “The Medium” spends more time indulging in his shtick than the narrative actually needs. “The Medium” thus ends up running longer than required without necessarily overstaying its welcome. That’s just one more way “Tales from the Hood 2” regularly reminds us of its “mixed bag” nature.
“Date Night” similarly pads its content when it ought to be pinching. Two full rounds of Cards Against Humanity aren’t essential to get the gist of douche-bros Ty and Kahad setting up their Tinder dates for a Cosby cocktail. Essentially amounting to a generic EC Comics yarn about date-rapists forced to eat their just desserts, “Date Night” feels like disposable filler with weak weight as a morality tale and a fear fable.
“Date Night” shines an uglier light on “Tales from the Hood 2’s” noticeably restricted production design. The wraparound with Simms and Beach is set inside a tent. One scene in “Date Night” takes place in a tight room with only a stage curtain covering what are supposed to be bedroom walls. Several locations seem to be redressed soundstages no bigger than an average kitchen. Particularly when juxtaposed with the first film, you can really see how missing money cheapens scope this time around.
Another thing noticeable about “The Medium” and “Date Night,” for better or for worse, is that they don’t really feature a racial component in their core DNA. “Date Night” simply slams misogynist rape culture. The three thugs in “The Medium” could be Russian or Italian mobsters and everything would play out virtually the same way.
Considering a wider capacity for popular appeal, it’s possibly wise for writers/directors Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott to apply their observational eyes more broadly. Yet tales like these two can be found in common places. “Tales from the Hood” gave an exclusive voice to socially conscious ideas not tackled elsewhere. For the franchise to flourish, its sequel stories could stand to court more conversation-worthy controversy.
Interestingly, although I can practically hear someone bemoaning how whites are portrayed in the movie, the truth of the matter is that Cundieff and Scott don’t belittle any race. Rather, they skewer specific stereotypes. Until the final segment, “Tales from the Hood 2” doesn’t truly present anyone as a hero. Everyone, even Simms, is a caricature colored by villainy on a lampoon level usually based on opportunistic circumstances. A lot more nurture than nature comes into play here.
“Tales from the Hood 2’s” unquestionable centerpiece is “The Sacrifice,” in many ways a refashioning of “A Christmas Carol” where ghosts attempt to reform a misguided man via the past, present, and future. “The Sacrifice” boldly makes the ballsy move of including Emmett Till, eventually accompanied by other slain civil rights figures too, as a central character. Putting such a person into occasionally mustache-twirling fiction comes with a risk of offensive distaste. Till’s sensitively handled incorporation instead adds a “sit up straight” poignancy not present in the other segments, giving gravity to a good ghost story with timely moral meaning.
Add a six-figure sum to its budget and “Tales from the Hood 2” might have had impact identical to its predecessor. It’s disheartening that The Powers That Be only ponied up enough dough for direct-to-video quality, particularly when both the political climate and hot horror box office make it a ripe time to plant this style of movie in a multiplex.
This leaves the sequel shorthanded to distill Two-Buck Chuck where “Tales from the Hood” crafted a fine wine that grows tastier with age. “Tales from the Hood 2” still gets the basic job done, though its lack of refinement means it may as well be slugged out of a Solo cup instead of a stemmed glass.
NOTE: There is a brief post-credits scene.
Review Score: 70