I wish I had some good news about A Haunted House. I wish I could tell you that the trailers hide all the good jokes, that it’s actually really clever, that it contains surprising cameos that’ll blow your mind, or something like that, but I can’t. It’s as bad as you’d expect — maybe worse. It’s not a painful watch, but it is a dull one. I almost fell asleep while it was playing, and I can count on two hands the amount of times I can say that and it not be hyperbole.
Our story begins as Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) invites his long-term girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins), to live with him. She runs over his dog in what I assume was meant to be the first funny scene in the movie. That night, she’s very flatulent. Very, very flatulent. Well, we’ve already struck out on the jokes, and we’re not even five minutes into the film. Yes, you’re stuck for another 80 minutes at this point. If you haven’t spent a significant amount of money on this film, I’d cut your losses right here and go do something else during this time.
If you continue, you get to watch a Paranormal Activity spoof, during which the characters take the ghost in their house about as seriously as I’m taking this review (not very). Some jokes are racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, but most of them are just extremely unfunny. I’m not exactly sure what type of person would find most of these funny, but apparently there’s an audience out there that will laugh at them. I have a terrible sense of humor but even I didn’t like A Haunted House.
About the only times that it gets mildly amusing are when its actors go off-script and start ad-libbing their way through a scene. I mean, we know that the likes of Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson, David Koechner, and Cedric the Entertainer can be funny if given the right material, yes? (Okay, maybe not Swardson.) Some of them have stand-up careers, and all of them have been in better movies than this one. When they get to improvise, the film at least gets interesting, if not necessarily funny. It at least becomes tolerable, but only in very short bursts.
Most of the time, though, we’re treated to unfunny gags and jokes that often run on for way too long to work even if they were funny. The law of diminishing returns would be applied if there were any positive returns to diminish. I’d estimate approximately 65 minutes of this film is dead air; the rest is mildly amusing. Is it worth sitting through so much lackluster, unfunny, or offensive material just to get about 15 minutes of “kind of funny, maybe” bits? I think not.
I get the feeling that a seriously funny movie could be made with this premise. Paranormal Activity seems like it would be pretty easy to spoof, as it’s inherently kind of silly if you think about it while not watching it. But A Haunted House isn’t that movie. It’s not smart enough, it doesn’t do enough differently, and … well, it borrows a joke from one of the Scary Movies, and that’s just — can you get lower than that? Then again, Marlon Wayans co-wrote both this film and some of the Scary Movie films, so I guess he’s just copying himself. Huh. Does that make it okay?
Speaking of Wayans, he’s not a great actor but he has a lot of charisma that in a better movie might prove to be an asset. Here, it’s just a reminder that charisma isn’t inherently funny, and without the jokes on top of it, it does nothing. Essence Atkins is the brunt of most jokes, especially once Cedric the Entertainer gets involved and the film turns weirdly misogynistic.
A Haunted House isn’t funny, is boring, and will also offend you if you happen to be someone who even has a remote interest in anyone who isn’t you. It only begins to work when it allows its naturally funny cast to ad-lib their way through scenes, but that doesn’t happen anywhere near often enough to be a selling point. For most of the time, you’ll be hoping that the paranormal entity just kills off the cast and we can hit the credits. That, of course, doesn’t happen. You might fall asleep while it plays, though, which is a bonus if you’re an insomniac.