I’ve been really looking forward to Hell Baby. Co-writers and directors, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant are two of main guys behind the awesome TV show Reno 911. They have the rare distinction of being huge names in the LA alt-comic community after Reno, while also writing blockbusters that make a butt load of cash, but the cool kids hate. When combined, their screenplays have literally made billions of dollars. Movies like Night at the Museum and Herbie: Fully Loaded. They make no apologies for their mainstream work, but are also the first to make fun of it and their willingness to tow the studio line. But with Hell Baby, they finally got the reigns to not just write, but also direct their movie on their terms. And the result is kind of disappointing.
Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb play Jack and Vanessa, a married couple expecting twins, who just bought a rundown house in New Orleans. They meet their neighbour F’Resnel, played by Keegan Michael Key who quickly established himself as the stand out in a very comedy pedigree heavy cast. He casually lets himself into their house (not for the last time) and lets them know it’s been the scene of so many murders, neighbours now know it as ‘The Murder House’. Almost immediately, Jack, Vanessa and the audience know there’s something not quite right about the house. Almost just as immediately, Vanessa is full blown possessed and everyone knows it.
The cast is filled out by Lennon and Garant as strip club frequenting exorcists dispatched by the Vatican, Paul Scheer and Rob Heubel as the least professional (but not as funny) cops since Superbad, and Riki Lindhome as Leslies Bibb’s surprisingly naked sister. Lennon, Garant, Scheer, Heubel and the afore mentioned Key are all sketch comedy veterans and milk more than a few moments of real funny. The problem though is that you can see how hard they had to work to find that funny.
There are a couple of moments where you can really see Lennon and Garant stretching their legs and taking full advantage of the freedom they have with an R rating and no studio to appease. The nudity, gore and violence are far from subtle and lead to some good laughs. In particular, the way they deal with the titular baby is bizarre, disturbing, disgusting, tasteless and hilarious all at the same time.
Hell Baby has some really funny jokes and the cast is made up of consistently really funny people. It just doesn’t add up to what it could or should be. Maybe I was just expecting too much because I’m such a big fan of so many of the people involved, but I was ultimately underwhelmed. I can’t help thinking I would have had a better time if I just re-watched some classic gear from all these dudes for the hundredth time.