By Christian Holub
Updated January 31, 2016 at 09:32 PM EST
Credit: Scott Everett White/Open Road Films

The prospect of spoofing Fifty Shades of Grey, as Marlon Wayans attempts to do in his new film Fifty Shades of Black, is a surprisingly difficult one. Fifty Shades of Grey, both the book with its leaden prose and the film with its lack of star chemistry, sometimes seems so ridiculous as to be beyond spoof. In fact, at one point in this film, Wayans (as Christian Black) even reads passages from the novel aloud in a mocking manner.

What, then, does spoofmeister Wayans have to add to a work whose fans even acknowledge as silly, the modern standard-bearer for guilty pleasures? Mostly, the answer is even more silliness – more than one piece of plastic genitalia is deployed for shock effect. Wayans is also incapable of limiting himself to parodying one movie at a time, tossing in riffs on Whiplash, Magic Mike, and Zero Dark Thirty to varying degrees of success.

And yet, at other moments, the film manages to be surprisingly subversive with its humor. The original Grey stories paint Christian as an ice king, all power and dominance against the virginal Anastasia. Wayans’ Christian, though, is constantly emasculated by his Hannah (Kali Hawk). Her butt implants prevent him from effectively spanking her and she keeps catching more of his embarrassing back story. The film is also merciless towards Christian’s adoptive parents (Fred Willard and Jane Seymour), who hide their money from their black children and openly state they mostly adopted them to start conversations at charity events.

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Toward the end, the film starts to seriously ponder how a master-slave sexual dynamic might have different resonances on screen when it’s played out between black actors. Hannah turns the tables on Christian and starts whipping him, declaring “this is for Kerry Washington in Django Unchained, and Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave …”

And then it’s back to the genitalia jokes. C+

Fifty Shades of Black

  • Movie
  • R
  • 92 minutes
  • Michael Tiddes