The problem with sketch comics making feature-length movies is pretty basic: They’ve been trained to think in five-minute bursts. Establish the premise, escalate it quickly, find a punchline, move along. The State alumni Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon would seem to be exceptions, since they’ve written multiple traditional comedies (Night At The Museum, The Pacifier), as well as a book about screenwriting. And yet Hell Baby, their joint directorial debut (Garant previously directed Balls Of Fury solo), functions exactly like a sketch movie, using its meager, essentially irrelevant plot as a clothesline upon which to string a series of self-contained bits. At least half of the bits are pretty damn funny, though, and that’s arguably all that matters.
Given all the tired Paranormal Activity parodies out there, Hell Baby gets bonus points for not riffing on any specific horror movie, though a Rosemary’s Baby vibe comes with the premise. While Leslie Bibb is the hugely pregnant mother, it’s expectant dad Rob Corddry who does most of the fretting after the couple move into a scarily dilapidated house (dubbed “House Of Blood,” among other cheery epithets, by the locals) and weird shit begins happening, starting with mood swings by Bibb that clearly go well beyond any hormonal imbalance. Eventually, a couple of priests (Garant and Lennon) drop by to perform an exorcism, though not before the house has been spiritually cleansed by Bibb’s New Age sister (Riki Lindhome) and repeatedly invaded by a creepy homeless dude (Keegan Michael Key) with zero sense of social propriety.
Garant and Lennon have an affinity for lowbrow, gross-out humor, and a tendency to beat jokes into the ground, both of which are embodied here in gags involving naked women—one a misshapen granny (Alex Berg—yes, a man) who wanders into Corddry’s bed to blow him; the other, Lindhome’s kooky sister, who doesn’t cover up after Corddry accidentally barges in on her in the shower. Lindhome deserves credit for making this scene blithely hilarious, but the entire gag exhausts itself long before it’s over. And that pretty much sums up Hell Baby, which is evenly divided, joke-wise, between complete non-starters and uproarious setpieces that overstay their welcome. There are blissful exceptions: A montage of characters scarfing down po’ boys improves with repetition, and Key, as the omnipresent “neighbor,” somehow transforms a single sublime note of amiable obliviousness into a silly symphony. His character is so tangentially related to the story that he’d arguably fit in just about any movie—or any sketch, for that matter—but so long as viewers are laughing, who cares?