You have to be quick these days to catch every interesting film passing through theatres in town. With the rise of the home video market, the cinema circuit is increasingly used to giving certain small films a brief theatrical window before going straight to video.
In order to check out this Afro-American comedy of note on the Panavision screen for which it was designed, I had to rush out immediately to Blankman in the few days before it disappeared.
It would be fair to say that funky Afro-American comedies – as distinct from high-budget vehicles for Eddie Murphy, or the much-touted art films of Spike Lee and John Singleton – have yet to find a mass audience in Australia. That is why they slip away to video, to hopefully find their smaller, cult niche.
Blankman showcases two performers familiar from the TV series In Living Color, Daman Wayans (Mo' Money, 1992) and David Alan Grier. Here they form a combustible duo a little reminiscent of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models (1955).
Daryl (Wayans) is a nutty, nerdy inventor determined to be a caped crusader; Kevin (Grier) is a chap with rather less moral sense who works on a trashy tabloid TV show called Hard Edition.
The cartoonish story is set against a lightly sketched backdrop of urban decay, corporate crime and political corruption. But director Mike Binder (Indian Summer, 1993) skilfully avoids the sorts of nasty, tasteless tangles of low comedy and serious social issues that marred the Pauly Shore vehicle Jury Duty (1995).
Blankman is a spectacularly silly, clownish and irreverent film. Its vulgar, knockabout wit is truly infectious – from the spectacle of Jason Alexander (George in Seinfeld) as a bald, Dr Strangelove figure in a wheelchair, to the swift parodies of daytime TV talk shows (featuring Blankman copycats like Midget Man and Gay Man).
The ordinary-jerk-as-urban-superhero premise was a popular one within Afro-American pop culture during the mid '90s. Robert Townsend (another prolific comedian-director whose films go virtually straight to video in Australia) milked the idea, as did Eric Laneuville's slightly more serious M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994) produced by Sam Raimi.
As comedy, this premise offers a sure-fire mixture of camp irony, B movie special effects, pastiches of related films or TV shows, and even a passing satirical, social comment or two.
Blankman may cover familiar ground – familiar at least to dedicated video buffs – but it does so with great energy and inventiveness.
© Adrian Martin September 1995