Eddie Griffin has created a distinguishable niche in the entertainment universe with his quick wit and sneering, small-man machismo – two qualities that, when working in concert, set him apart from the usually-cited list of contemporary comedians like Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer. In “Dysfunktional Family,” a live standup movie, Griffin rarely uses material that showcases his comedic strengths and the unengaging film is instead filled with trite routines.
Whether he’s illustrating how uptight white people are, how persecuted black people remain in America or how flamboyant gay men can seem, Griffin makes all the stereotypical jokes, rarely finding anything new to lampoon. There is some truth behind a few of his jokes – when discussing slavery, Griffin notes that Africans were forced into America while their European counterparts came by choice – however, most of the time, audiences will be bored hearing old material unimaginatively rehashed.
What does set “Dysfunktional” apart is its interspliced documentary-like component that examines Griffin’s family in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., where the movie’s concert performance was filmed. Griffin’s family – particularly his mother and uncles – is introduced, and many of their candid moments are smartly edited to echo or verify the comedy routines inspired by Griffin’s childhood. Griffin’s uncles Curtis and Bucky are distinctly curious, the former an amateur pornographer who gleefully displays his collection and the latter a reformed heroin junkie who Griffin recalls watching shoot up.
Griffin cites Bucky as his primary supporter when the comedian was considering pursuing a career in show business. That connection, colored by the drug history and Bucky’s mournful reflections, is the most interesting facet of “Dysfunktional.”
The film follows Griffin’s homecoming as well, and his most personal and revealing episodes occur as he returns to his old junior high school and neighborhood. Ironically, the audience learns much more about Griffin from the fleeting glimpses into his life than it does from the hour of standup comedy.
That hour does have its humorous and intelligent moments, though they are few and far between. Particularly insightful is Griffin’s bit about the United States’ persistent willingness to scapegoat, exemplified by the post-Sept. 11 racial paranoia that implicated all Muslims and Griffin claims made him know what it felt like to be white. “I never thought I’d be racist,” remarks Griffin (despite his stereotyping of whites), yet he poignantly discusses how even he, a normally alienated black man, felt enfranchised by the United States’ ersatz time of cohesion, when blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians united under the banner of being “American” through a seeming universal mistrust of Arabs.
Unfortunately, such smart humor is mostly obscured by the tired comedic crutches on which Griffin leans for most of “Dysfunktional.” Future endeavors in the genre would be wise to incorporate this movie’s documentary component and excise the unoriginal jokes.
1 1/2 Stars