Fat Albert and Darkness (review)

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Just Shoot Me

There’s bad, and then there’s movies like Fat Albert and Darkness, movies that alternately make you curl up into a fetal position and whimper or throw things at the screen and yell “Dear God in heaven, someone make it stop!” But they don’t stop: they go on and on and on in their clueless awfulness, days and days and days of your life sucked away while tiny evil incorporeal mice chew away on your soul the whole time, and then it turns out the damn movie was only 80 minutes long and only banging your head against a rock until you’re insensate can make the pain go away.

I seem to remember the Fat Albert cartoons of my childhood being fairly sweet and fun, but this bizarre big-screen adaptation is like a morality play mounted by simpletons with no real understanding of human behavior, for simpletons who are amused by the same dumb jokes even the tenth time they’re deployed. Worse, the whole sorry endeavor seems to have been slapped together for no reason other than as a promotion for a slew of DVD releases of the original episodes… DVDs that, in a display of crassness almost unprecedented even in vulgar Hollywood, actually appear here in the movie, in a video store window, oohed and aahed over by Fat Albert’s posse.
Yes, Purple Rose of Cairo style, 1970s-era Fat Albert and his pals — Old Weird Harold, Mushmouth, the guy with the ski hat down over his whole face, et al — jump out of the TV into the “real” world of fake Hollywood city-street backlots of the year 2000-something, where they get to ponder the mysteries of cellphones and laptops and go on shopping montages, replete with the bad-movie-traditional trying-on-of-silly-hats, at the strange and exotic “mall.” Where the show from which Albert escaped is prominently featured in a video-store window — Now on DVD! — and where Albert can rap his own theme song at a “happening” party (in one of the more excruciating sequences) and no one seems to notice that he’s a freakin’ cartoon character walking around like a human person.

But that’s pretty much the standard kind of crap we’ve come to expect from bad comedies these days. That and how there’s no story here, just a demented lurching from one unhumorous attempt at humor to another. Fat Albert launches itself into the stratosphere of idiocy when it ends up making itself entirely moot. See, Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson: Barbershop 2: Back in Business, The Master of Disguise) is summoned from TVLand by the tears of Doris (Kyla Pratt), when she sobs into the remote control while she’s watching TV, and he is able to abandon the cartoon realm to help her with her friendlessness problem because there’s a doodly-doodly Twilight Zone connection between the two of them, one that makes her say things like, “You know, you really remind me of someone.”

Never mind how phonily staged this “special” relationship is, how ickily false it feels — neither actor has any capacity to convey a human connection; Thompson’s performance extends to weird empty stares meant to be beatific, I think. It turns out, at the very very end — yes, I’m going to reveal the secret surprise ending *shhh* — that, in this grotesquely meta flick, it is possible for Doris’s grandfather, who recently died, to whom she was very close, to have been Bill Cosby’s inspiration for the cartoon character of Fat Albert. And this fact is actually very clearly referenced on the grandfather’s tombstone. The movie acts as if she doesn’t know this vital bit of info — as if she’d never read her beloved grandfather’s grave marker — and proceeds to treat the discover of it as of momentous psychological import, when it actually makes the entire movie pointless. Which it already was anyway.

At least someone involved had the wit and foresight to make sure that Doris’s sister, with whom Albert falls madly in love, is really her foster sister, cuz otherwise… ewww.

Fat Albert seems to have a reason to exist, if only the mercenary one of selling DVDs. The same cannot be said for Darkness, the point of which I challenge anyone involved to explain. It’s another of those “evil house” horror flicks, but the evil is so nebulous and ineffective that it might as well be on a permanent lunch break, and the house appears to be little more than one long hallway for the director to push his camera down in manner he thinks is terrifying or ominous, and isn’t. In fact, the only scary thing about Darkness is how shockingly inept director Jaume Balagueró is.

For reasons known only to equally incompetent screenwriters Fernando de Felipe and Miguel Tejada-Flores — or maybe not even to them — in five days after the opening of the film, a “special eclipse” will occur for the first time in 40 years, and Balagueró seems to feel that this alone is enough to create suspense. The long stretches of nothing happening are punctuated every once in a while with a somber placard announcing the arrival of each day — “Tuesday,” “Thursday” — as if we have any idea what the eclipse signifies, as if we care to find out.

All we know is that teenager Regina (a slumming Anna Paquin: X2: X-Men United, 25th Hour) feels that something is wrong with the new house her family just moved into, even if mom Maria (Lena Olin: Queen of the Damned, Chocolat) and dad Mark (Iain Glen: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) don’t see it. Astonishingly negligent parents, they dismisses the strangulation-type bruise around their young son Paul’s (Stephan Enquist) throat as “a cry for attention” — the audience can guess how it happened, but hardly the motives of the specters who inflicted the wound. Meanwhile, unrelated images of Regina swimming and pencils rolling under Paul’s bed under their own power and Dad having mysterious seizures are intercut by Balagueró in an attempt to put you into a coma, which you escape by glancing at your watch every five minutes and sighing loudly, hoping the film will get the hint and hurry it up already.

Regina’s investigation into the “mystery” of the house introduces her to cardboard people who say things like “You shouldn’t have come,” or mutter random mumbo-jumbo about rituals and evil, and bring her to an “astonishing” truth that we guessed from the opening scene. But you’d long since concluded that this was one supernaturally nonsensical, random, obvious, and terminally dull movie.

Fat Albert
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated PG for momentary language
official site | IMDB

viewed at a public multiplex screening
rated R for terror/violence and language
official site | IMDB

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