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Film Review: 'Hell Baby' is a Little Half-Baked
When we found out that the guys behind Reno 911—Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon—were making their feature directing debut with the horror-comedy spoof Hell Baby, we jumped at the chance to see it. And why not? The two had penned major studio films Night at The Museum, Balls of Fury and Reno 911!: Miami. Plus, Hell Baby’s casting was incredible: In addition to Garant and Lennon as Italian priests who belong to the Vatican’s exorcism team, the film also features Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan-Michael Key, Paul Scheer, Michael Ian Black, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Holmes, among others.
Maybe our expectations were set too high because, unfortunately, Hell Baby comes off as half-baked. All the elements are there, but altogether, the final film is rough around the edges, with too many unnecessary elements seemingly thrown into the mix to see what would stick. Although it clocks in at 90-something minutes, Hell Baby surely feels a helluva lot longer.
Rob Corddry—who did great turns in In a World… and Warm Bodies—and Leslie Bibb (Iron Man, Talladega Nights) star as Jack and Vanessa, an expectant couple who move into a haunted fixer-upper in a poor New Orleans neighborhood. Right away, strange things start to happen, not including finding the vagabond F’Resnel (Key, a bright spot in the film)—who pops up at the worst times—living in the house’s crawlspace. F’Resnel reassures his new neighbors that a murder hasn’t happened at the house in...months.
So for the weird stuff. At first, moving boxes and items are arranged and re-arranged, then Vanessa goes through some changes that aren’t necessarily pregnancy related: smoking, drinking lots of booze and paint thinner, and speaking in what sounds like a demonically possessed voice. Her strange behavior escalates as her due date approaches, leaving Jack utterly confused. He has his own problems, too. One afternoon as he starts fooling around with his wife in bed; a minute later he finds himself getting stimulated under the sheets by a toothless old woman. They end up fighting and Jack kills her. Vanessa’s solution? Bury the old biddy in the backyard and none will be the wiser. The old woman wanders back throughout the film, but really, it’s an unnecessary element.
The hilarious Michael Ian Black has a small role as a therapist who suspects something more insidious is happening with Vanessa and her pregnancy. We wished he had a larger part because his character is not only interesting, but also smart (at least smart enough to pick up on demonic possession, anyway). Other people try to help Jack figure out what’s wrong with Vanessa, including her Wiccan sister (Riki Lindhome) and clueless cops assigned to look into the missing people and murders (Rob Huebel and Scheer). Finally, it’s up to the God squad (Garant and Lennon with some hilariously bad Italian accents) to exorcise the demon baby—but Satan puts up one hell of a fight.
The climactic scene in the birth room is neither scary or funny, and instead plays out as silly—and not in a good Airplane kind of way. The comedy talents of the players are hurt by the unfocused script, and Corddry, who’s had stellar roles and performances of late, is a little uninspired as a milquetoast husband who’s too daft to realize that his wife is possessed. Garant and Lennon said that the film was about 15 percent improvised, but most of the jokes—whether improvised or scripted—fell flat. There’s some gratuitous sex and violence thrown in the film for good measure, but those scenes are the least of Hell Baby’s problems.