Meet The Blacks seems faintly aware that sometimes movies imitate other, pre-existing movies in a comical fashion to “spoof” said movies, and sometimes these spoofs last a full, feature-length 90 minutes. The other movies in this case are the Purge films, specifically the first one, in which a family holes up in their home during 12 hours of legalized free-for-all crime, only to wind up fending off a home invasion. This might seem like thin material for an entire feature-length spoof, but not to worry: Meet The Blacks may not actually qualify as one after all. It’s more like an extremely confusing and sloppily written chunk of Purge fan-fiction—a tortured use of another movie’s absurd mythology to help make muddled quasi-satirical points, while indulging the apparently fail-safe punchline of saying the word “purge” about once a minute.
At first the movie’s truly bizarre amount of backstory, which rivals How High for the over-complication of a seemingly direct premise, seems like it may be a post-production addition. Some introductory material about the Purge is inserted in between company logos, and the opening credits feature narration from Carl Black (Mike Epps) explaining how he and his family arrived in Beverly Hills. The Blacks hail from Chicago, where Carl worked at his own wiring business, struggling to support his daughter Allie (Bresha Webb, spirited), his son Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson, sweet and likable), and his wife Lorena (Zulay Henao), along with his freeloading ex-con cousin (and borderline sexual abuser, tee hee) Cronut (Lil Duval). Rather than framing their transfer to California as simple upward mobility, the movie gives the convoluted explanation about how Carl stole some money from drug dealer Key Flo (Charlie Murphy) after his arrest and “got a deal” on a house in a gated community in Beverly Hills.
The real movie opens with the Blacks settling into their new home, expressing varying and inconsistent levels of worry about the upcoming Purge. In the world of this movie, the Purge is a regular annual occurrence, just like in the actual Purge movies, except that the president is played by George Lopez. (He’s not playing the president as George Lopez, but when he announces his plans to spend his crime night going after Jay Leno, he might as well be.) But Carl seems convinced, contrary to all evidence, that it simply doesn’t happen in Beverly Hills—that it’s really more of a poor Chicago thing, not a rich white-people thing. In one of many confusing scenes, he demands that his daughter “fix the TV” because Purge news is dominating every channel. A man living in a post-Purge world unaware what the Purge actually is could be a great Shaun Of The Dead-style joke, but the movie isn’t entirely clear about what Carl knows and doesn’t know, in part because Epps plays the part in a kind of surly haze. The actor has been funny in plenty of movies, but director and cowriter Deon Taylor seems to be encouraging him to channel late-period Adam Sandler.
Even without Epps fully awake, Taylor seems to be setting up a more directly satirical version of The Purge where genteel white neighbors use the annual tradition as an excuse to “cleanse” their gated neighborhood of unwanted diversity. This has some bite, which the movie immediately softens by throwing in a bunch of black characters who also turn up at the Black household, ready to hunt down the family. This is the point where Key Flo and an African-accented process server from earlier in the movie return with a lust for blood, but why? Is the movie making a point about how some pundits scream about black-on-black crime in the face of racially charged murder, or is the movie itself perpetuating that distraction by implying that Carl must reap what he sows? There’s also a thread about American debt—one of the many Purge attackers is, amusingly, a Visa representative sick of chasing Carl down—drowned out by the movie’s tendency to yell out celebrity names in place of jokes.
In spite of its garbled comedy writing (Kim Kardashian! Paris Hilton! Those are sample jokes, not celebrity cameos, although Mike Tyson and Perez Hilton do show up in person) and poor production values (drab lighting; weirdly canned sound effects; even a few misframed shots), Meet The Blacks does stumble into some laughs. Murphy and Epps don’t have a lot of screen time together, but their diversion-friendly chemistry carries over from other movies, and they briefly nudge the movie in a sillier, funnier direction. (Key Flo is convinced that Carl also made off with his space heater and toilet seat, in addition to thousands of dollars in cash.) There are some pointed moments, too, as when a murderous white attacker stops to apologize over his use of the n-word—for going too far during his threats on the family’s life.
More often, though, the movie panics and wrecks its own set-ups. At one point, members of the Ku Klux Klan have (inexplicably) captured Cronut, and Carl decides to don a sheet and infiltrate their ranks. Instead of constructing a funny scene where Mike Epps attempts to impersonate a Klan member, the movie has him stumble into the situation, immediately give himself away, whip off his disguise, and yell stuff. End of scene. Like the movie, it’s a smash-and-grab operation that winds up empty-handed.