Monday, March 21, 2011

A Decade of Dreck #48: The Cookout

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more information about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far. 

When young men grow up, they are forced to leave behind the homesteads of their families and journey off into the world to seek their fortune. The story is as old as humanity itself. But when a boy becomes a man, must he leave the traditions of his fathers behind? Can he return to the farm now that he has seen Pair-ee?

This age-old story is ripe for feel-good cinematic exploitation. I'm sure it's been done before a gazillion times, but after watching The Cookout, my brain is so fried (from both the sheer inanity of this movie as well as all the pork-fried goodness on screen, expertly filmed at a near-pornographic level of mouth-watering deliciousness) that I can't recall one for the life of me.

Todd Andersen is the star player for the Rutgers men's basketball team and a hometown hero in his native New Jersey. When he gets selected as the Nets' first round draft pick (much to evil mastermind Mark Cuban's chagrin) he celebrates by blowing his newfound wealth on cars, a ritzy house, and gifts for his money-grubbing girlfriend. His manager insists that he secure a lucrative endorsement deal in order to keep himself in the black, while his parents decide to throw a cookout at the new house to do the same.

(Explanation: "In the black" is an economic term referring to the state of earning more money than is spent. The joke I made plays on this turn of phrase by implying that Todd's parents wish for him to stay true to his lower-middle class African-American roots, or "stay black". Thank you for your time. This joke wasn't that funny, now that I think about it.)

But, will his eccentric family drive mainstream success away? Will success spoil Todd Andersen? All these questions and more will be answered in THE COOKOUT!
You can see the moral of this story coming from a mile away. "HEY! FAME AND FORTUNE IS GREAT AND ALL, BUT DON'T FORGET WHERE YOU COME FROM!" And for that reason I guess I disliked it from the get-go. I'm fine with predictable movies with played-out character archetypes, but when it gets used for inspirational shcmaltz about how great family is (and not that I don't like families), it starts to wear me down.

This is probably all the fault of the characters representing the lures of family and fame/fortune: Todd's mother and his girlfriend (read into that what you will). Todd's mom, Emma or "Lady Em" as she insists everyone call her (endearing), does literally nothing but warn Todd of the evils of the world. This is meant to be representative of her down-home wisdom and the goodness and love only a mother can have. However, she just comes off as a nag. Nothing's ever good enough for her, and her need to control her adult son's life is strangling his nascent basketball career in the womb.

I genuinely felt bad for Todd's "gold digger" girlfriend Brittany: the movie seems to insist that she's nothing but a greedy hussy who doesn't care about Todd as is only trying to milk as much cash out of him as possible. She actually comes across as fairly sweet and genuine, except when the filmmakers decide she shouldn't be.

Todd has a childhood friend who was bound in ugly headgear for her entire youth. Having lost touch since college, she re-emerges at the eponymous cookout as a beautiful ugly duckling type played by Eve. Now, I love the story of the unrequited love of Todd's life coming back, but there wasn't nearly enough going to dissuade me from Brittany's virtuousness.

But seriously, Lady Em is a bitch.

 There's also a pretty above average supporting cast to round out this ensemble comedy. Tim Meadows plays an aspiring lawyer cousin chock full of conspiracy theories and continues the beautiful tradition of forcing the viewer to scream at the screen about why doesn't Tim Meadows have a decent post-SNL career? Danny Glover plays a decidedly Clarence Thomas-esque Black Republican married to Farrah Fawcett, which is as we say in Minnesota "kind different".

Queen Latifah (who, by the way, is a producer on this and is credited as coming up with the story as well) is credited with a "special appearance" in this one. Now, I assumed this was meant to indicate some sort of cameo appearance, even though those are normally uncredited. Maybe it would be worth using for a performer who didn't normally act in films, like a musician or something. But for an Academy Award-nominated actress? It seems more like this is some sort of weird ego trip. Latifiah plays an overly-enthusiastic, wannabe SWAT security guard at Todd's gated community and she esstentially plays Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing. It's an okay-enough part I suppose, but worth maybe a third or fourth billing, but not a "special appearance".

For some reason, I liked The Cookout more than I thought I should. Maybe it was the earnest goofiness of it all or maybe it was the two Wire actors in the cast, but I actually derived a sliver of a percent of enjoyment from this one as opposed to my standard bile-spewing rage at these movies. Alas, the glaring flaws that lay within hamstring this movie irreparably. 

Mmmm...ham...(yes, ham is a major plot point of this film)

The Cookout is ranked #69 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 5% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.