Friday, February 06, 2009

You Can Either Take The Window Or The Stairs

By Odienator (Click here for all posts)

Belle Spade has two sons, Junebug and Jack. One went into the Army to prove himself to the world, and the other went to work for Mr. Big, the neighborhood crime figurehead. Mr. Big keeps the people in check by introducing them to that ghetto epidemic that started in the 1980’s and caused plenty of Black on Black crime, gold chains. Junebug Spade couldn’t resist the temptation. He took one hit off the gold chain pipe and got hooked. When the cops found him, he had OG’ed, that is, he overdosed on gold. The police treat his dead body the same way they treat most dead bodies in the ghetto.

One even asks the question that was on everybody’s mind:

How did he go to the bathroom with all that stuff on?

So begins the Blaxploitation-mocking I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Keenen Ivory Wayans’ directorial debut from 1988. Sucka makes its parodic intentions known from the opening credits song, sung by The Gap Band and written by 70’s music icon Norman Whitfield. Like Shaft’s theme, it prevents the singer from saying a word we’ll be hearing a lot of for the next 89 minutes. Like Blaxploitation, it celebrates the determination and power of strong Black men and women in their pursuit to stick it to the Man, except this time one of the brothers is felled by bunion problems, and the most powerful sistah in the picture is the hero’s Mom, played by Ja’Net “Willona on Good Times” DuBois.

For those counting the signs of the Apocalypse brought on by the Wayans family, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka is your First Sign. Director Wayans makes it a family affair, casting his brother Damon as a bumbling henchman paired with Dwayne Wayne from A Different World, and his sister Kim as the worst club singer in history. If you look closely and quickly, you’ll also see Shawn and Marlon Wayans as well. Sucka began their tradition of throwing every possible joke, no matter how questionable, at the wall and seeing what sticks. Sucka is the best of the lot (though I enjoyed the first Scary Movie almost as much) because it has a story to keep veering it back on track. It also benefits greatly from Keenen using the funniest and most subtle Wayans brother in a prominent role.

People seem to be divided into two camps on this picture. Either they thought it was funny, or they thought it so offensive that it should have never been made. Siskel and Ebert took sides on this, as did my best friend and I after a screening of the film. We walked into a Manhattan theater looking like one of those black and white Jungle Fever cookies, and when we walked out, my pal was livid. I was still wiping tears out of my eyes from laughing and he gave me one of those lectures. Folks, you know the one, where the Negro-impaired person you know and love feels it is necessary to tell you what it means to be Black, and what racism is, as if your dumb country ass had never experienced it before and was in dire need of enlightenment. And they’re ALWAYS WRONG too! “How could you laugh at this shit?” he asked me. “Don’t you know this is RACIST against Black people?!!!”

I tilted my head, looking at him like the dog on the RCA label. I gave the universal Scooby Doo sound for cluelessness, “Ah-roo?” He then proceeded to go down the list of things he found offensive, all of which I will go into great detail about below, and then had the balls to tell me I didn’t know what racism was when I disagreed with him! “No more Black movies for you!” I said. “You can’t handle them!”

Consider this your warning! Potentially offensive material follows.

A good parody should also be a representation of that which it parodies. Blazing Saddles is a credible Western, for example, in addition to being a hilarious send up of it. Young Frankenstein is at times very atmospheric and almost scary, in addition to being a hilarious send-up of horror movies. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka has all the scenes to make up a standard issue Blaxploitation movie, and has enough action and plot points to justify it as such. These plot points were seen before, and become the jumping off point for Sucka’s jokes: Somebody overdoses and a family member wants revenge (see Coffy). There’s a Mr. Big and a series of henchmen sent to antagonize the hero (see most of the genre). There are three tough guys, one of whom is a kung fu master (see Three the Hard Way). There’s a Player’s Ball of sorts (see The Mack). And all the heroes have theme music.

Let’s weave all these into the story. After Junebug OG’s, Mr. Big’s henchmen, one smart and one stupid (Damon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison, respectively) show up at the house of his Mama Belle (Janet Du’Bois) and his wife Cheryl (Dawnn Lewis). Seems Junebug owed Mr. Big $5,000 for the gold chains he OG’ed on. When Belle can’t pony up the money, the smart henchman, Lenny, tries to take Cheryl as collateral for Mr. Big to ho on the street. Stupid henchman, Willie, slaps Belle around, causing Cheryl to gasp. Not because Mama got hit, but because pissing Mama off results in a serious case of Whup Ass being opened.

After Belle stomps a mudhole in Willie’s ass, she gives the two henchmen the ultimatum they’ll hear throughout the picture: “You can take the window or the stairs to get out of here.”

Lenny and Willie take the stairs.

Soonafter, Jack returns home. Belle is glad to see him, and it’s hinted that Cheryl and he were involved before he went to the military. Jack wants revenge against the men who gave Junebug his stash, but Belle will hear none of it. “You all I got,” she tells him. With a mother who can whip multiple people at once, Jack was never allowed to fend for himself. This led him to seek out the military to man up. Now he’s home and ready for revenge despite what Mamma Spade tells him. In a heartwarming scene, Belle tells Jack “I kept your room exactly the way you left it!”

This is the way he left it.

Going through some pictures with Belle, which she pulls from one of those Bibles everybody’s Mama had in the ‘hood, Jack notices Belle in a picture with hood hero, Slade. Belle tells them she and Slade used to be an item, but that was long ago. Jack gets the bright idea to find Slade to see if he’ll help him fight Mr. Big. Slade had cleaned up the neighborhood in the 70’s, but was now retired.

Jack finds Slade at the Ghetto Games, a sort of projects-set Olympics featuring, in Slade’s words, “events that are familiar to their environment.” These events include robbing the elderly, stripping cars, and running from Doberman Pinschers while holding large TV’s.

Slade is interviewed on TV by David Alan Grier, who plays a character similar to the one he portrayed in Amazon Women on the Moon, the guy with no soul. “You know what I mean, brother?” Slade asks Grier. “well actually I don’t. See I didn’t grow up around Blacks! I grew up in the suburbs. Mom was a lawyer, dad was a doctor and all my friends were White. My friends made fun of me because I didn’t speak jive, and I couldn’t dance to save my life.” Then Grier shows us the one dance he can do, the Courtney Cox move from Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video. I’ve been to three Bruce concerts—Grier’s movements are dead on what I saw the audiences doing.

"You can't start a fire! You can't start a fire without a spark..."

Jack shows Slade the picture of Belle, and Slade remembers her. “She used to do this thing with her mouth,” he begins before Jack stops him. “Man, that’s my Mama!” Slade asks him what he wants. “You’re not selling Norway products are you?” threatens Slade (I assume Norway was a play on Amway). Jack assures Slade that he’s selling ass kicking. Slade reminds Jack he’s retired, and Jack says “the people need you!” This pisses Slade off even more. “The people said I was too violent! A bad influence on the kids! Fuck the people!!”

Jack’s next stop is a storefront that houses a Black Revolutionary group. He enters to find Clarence Williams III as Kalinga, the leader of the revolution. Kalinga offers him a soda, and it isn’t a Coke or Pepsi. Everything in the revolutionary place is made of beans, including the soda. “It’s an acquired taste,” he says after Jack spits it out on the floor.

Jack pleads his case, but Kalinga tells him the Man was too powerful for the resistance. “They all got government jobs!” laments Kalinga. “We went down to the building to take it over, but they were hiring that day. The bruvas walked in with guns and they came out with jobs! The bruvas weren’t MAD anymore! Yes, Whitey is something else!”

As if on cue, Kalinga’s wife enters the room. She’s played by Jan Brady, Eve Plumb! “Stay for dinner! She makes the best bean dishes!” reveals Kalinga. Jack says “No thanks, I’m regular.” Kalinga and Jan’s kids show up next, two cute blonde children, a boy and a girl. The boy wishes to honor his “Black king” of a father by reading his book report about Abraham Lincoln. Had my friend been offended by this report, I would have understood. The kid’s delivery is what makes it work. Here is that cute little boy’s report in all its offensive glory:

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Illinois. This po’ White trash went on to become President of the United States! Once in office, this White capitalist swine manipulated the freedom of the Black man for his own political career. Then another piece of po’ White trash shot him in the head! The End!

After being shot down by the local hero and the local ex-militant, Jack visits the restaurant where Cheryl works. He is met by some of Mr. Big’s men. Just before he can fight them, guess who shows up? Jack’s Mama. Except it’s not Willona, it’s obviously a White stunt man with a mustache kicking the hell out of the henchmen. The trio escapes and are joined by Slade, who manages to capture Lenny and Willie. The duo had been shooting at them from a nearby rooftop. Slade captures Mr. Big’s men using Jack’s help and the body of a woman’s fiancĂ©e who had just been shot. (“He’s dead, can’t you tell by the music?!!” the woman weeps as sad music plays on the soundtrack.) Once again, Lenny and Willie face the decision on how they choose to exit. Once again, they take the stairs.

Slade needs ammo and a team to help take down Mr. Big. His first stop is a club where he can meet a connection for guns. The club’s bartender is played by the late comedian, Robin Harris, and the club’s singer, a must-have in any Blaxploitation picture, is played by Kim Wayans. Her rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” must be seen to be believed. As she rolls around on the floor, Slade asks the waitress “what’s with her?!” “Director’s sister,” replies the waitress.

Meanwhile, on the edge of the bar is a woman named Cherry. “How long has it been since you’ve been laid,” Slade asks Jack. Jack admits it’s been a while, so Slade directs his attention to Cherry, who’s doing something nasty with her namesake. Cherry sits down and tells Jack that she needs something that only a very special man can give her.

Twelve inches!

Jack lies about having 12 inches, and off they go to Cherry’s pad for some Blaxploitation hero lovin’. Unfortunately for Jack, Cherry is about to find out that he doesn’t have 12 inches. So he levels with her about his lie. Cherry tells him that she’s been untruthful too, and then proceeds to completely dismantle herself, removing her fake breasts, ass, hair, contacts, and even her leg. This scares the shit out of Jack and he flees into the night.

From this


Back at the bar, Slade and Jack meet weapons man One-Eyed Sam. It’s here that Slade discovers that Jack’s medals in the military are all for secretarial things like shorthand. He also discovers, to his horror, that One-Eyed Sam was also honored for secretarial things. “Aw, man you said you were in Nam!” yells Slade. “Well how did you lose your eye?” “We were fucking around in the office and somebody shot me in the eye with a paper clip!” says Sam.

Weapons procured, Slade next goes to build the rest of his team. He goes to Hammer and Slammer’s rib joint to reunite with his buddies Hammer (Isaac Hayes—where was Fred “The Hammer” Williamson?) and Slammer (Jim Brown). Before he gets there, however, we get the scene you paid to see if you rented this movie. The scene that haunted the comedian who appears in it for years to come.

Chris Rock walks into H&S’s Rib Shack and wants to know “How much for a rib?” Hammer tells him “$2.50.” “How many do I get?” asks Rock. “About 5,” says Hammer. “So that’s 50 cents a rib?” asks Rock after calculating the answer on his hand. “Yes,” says Hammer. “OK, I’ll have a rib!” says Rock. “Order of ribs!” Hammer yells to Slammer, who is in the kitchen ready to throw down. “Not one order, one rib!” says Rock. “One rib,” says Hammer after looking at Rock with disdain. “I sho am hungry!” says Rock in a line I’m sure he wishes he could retract.

“How much for a soda?” Rock asks next. “One dollar!” replies Hammer, visibly getting angry. “How about a sip for 15 cents?” asks Rock. “My cups cost more than 15 cents!!” yells Hammer. “Fuck the cup! Pour some in my hands for a dime!” exclaims Rock. Hammer grabs Rock and demands that he pay and get the hell out. Rock reaches in his pocket and pulls out a huge bankroll. “You got change for a fifty?” he asks.

Hammer loses it! He pulls Rock over the counter and says “you’re going to need an orthopedic surgeon to get my foot out of your ass!”

Thankfully, Slade stops the carnage and sends Rock on his way. “The customer is always right!” he tells Hammer. He then tells them of his plan to take down Mr. Big. “We have a business now,” says Slammer. “You two big muthafuckas in here cooking red beans and grits? You call that a business?” It’s enough to make H&S reconsider. “Fuck it, I’m in,” says Slammer. “It’s been a long time since I killed somebody!” Hammer and Slammer are also joined by Kung Fu Joe (Steve James), a martial arts expert modeled after Jim Kelly. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka even gives him a scene that pays homage to Kelly’s Three the Hard Way drug bust scene (say it with me: “you set me up!”).

The next stop is to get information from Flyguy, a pimp who has been in jail for 10 years thanks to Mr. Big’s shenanigans. Flyguy is getting released from jail the day he chats with Slade, and he gives his allegiance so long as Slade doesn’t stop him from dealing with his hos. Slade agrees, since after all, Flyguy was once Pimp of the Year. Said contest included a talent portion, where Flyguy delivers a poem I recite whenever I’m doing my expense reports at work.

My bitch better have my money. Through rain, sleet or snow. My Ho Better have my money. Not half, not some, but all of my cash. Cuz if she don't, I'ma put my foot dead in her ass!

Unfortunately for Flyguy, things have changed since he went into the pen, most notably, pimp attire. This leads to the funniest sequence in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. Flyguy leaves jail dressed like 1977, and everyone has something to say about his gear. "Did you go shopping at the Goodwill?" one woman asks. As the ridicule increases, Flyguy runs faster. His platform shoes, which contain a live aquarium, break on the street as he runs. I have to give Antonio Fargas credit for even considering getting dressed like this.

Yes, young folks, people actually did dress like this in the 70's!

With the team in place, Slade and company proceed to disrupt Mr. Big’s businesses, including a bar where everybody wears enormous pimp hats and a whorehouse where we’re privy to the only nudity the movie has to offer. Meanwhile, Cheryl gets kidnapped by Lenny and Willie, but not before her PMS makes her very unfriendly in their presence.

Lenny: Child you got the Devil in you!!! Cheryl: NO! CRAAAAAMPS!!

"I asked you nicely! Now I'm gonna rip your nuts off!"

Of course, despite all the team's firepower, Jack is going to have to save the day. After putting on about 600 lbs of weapons, Hammer slips on a bullet and falls to the ground, causing his entire arsenal to go off. Slammer winds up with a bunion injury that even Dr. Scholls would run from, and Slade learns that you should light your bomb AFTER you start rappelling down a wall with a rope. How Jack saves the day, you’ll have to see for yourself. Hint: it involves a lot of gunfire.

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka toys with the genre conventions. Wherever Slade goes, his theme music is played by musicians who walk behind him. They even get to comment on the action, as Flyguy’s musicians are laughing so hard at his attire that they can’t even play his theme music. Sucka even casts John Vernon as Mr. Big, paying homage to other instances where big stars have gone B movie. Vernon has a speech where he asks “why not me doing an exploitation picture?” His question is unwarranted; after he did Sweet Movie, he could only go down in the shocking movie appearance category.

Sucka also parodies funeral scenes in Blaxploitation movies (John Witherspoon plays a priest) and gives us a flashback where someone does to the Soul Train dance line what I secretly wished would happen when I was a kid.

Humor and offense are subjective. Either you’ll laugh at I’m Gonna Git You Sucka or you’ll cringe. It has no substance outside of several Black in-jokes snuck into the movie. The Bible, the bunions, the cheapskate kid and the scary cook who seems to be in the kitchen of every soul food restaurant I’ve ever visited all get noted. The Wayans would go on to dirtier, more offensive, and (far too often) more terribly made pictures. This is still the funniest one of Wayans’ directing career.

This is exactly what would happen if I had danced on the Soul Train Line. Those people were all knocked out.


Steven Boone said...

Willie: I heard you screamin' from all the way over there, and...

Leonard: I wasn't screamin', all right?

Willie: But I heard you...

Leonard: I wasn't screamin'! I was whistling!

Willie: You was whistling "Willie, help get this bitch off of me"?

(thanx imdb)

Odie, Sucka is one of my happier '80s moviegoing memories, right up there with Jaws 3-D and The Last Dragon. We (a raucous assembly of negro and latino youth and working stiffs) nearly tore down the old RKO theater in New Rochelle by the force of decibels and stomping Timberlands. This film and Hollywood Shuffle were the preamble to In Living Color.

Your breakdown is so thorough, it almost belongs on the Greatest Films website-- almost only cuz Sucka ain't exactly great, just funny as shit.

Hal said...

Just curious Odie, where would you rank SUCKA in relation to the other two well-known parodies of the genre, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975) and UNDERCOVER BROTHER (2002)?

Myself, I can't wait to see the latest entry, BLACK DYNAMITE. The trailer looks fantastic.

John Vernon's line actually cracked me up at the time because CHAINED HEAT was such a favorite among my group of friends. Talk about an exploitation flick....

I also remember the first viewing of I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA at home about a year after its release. When Fargas made his first 'public appearance' in a decade, me and a friend both yelled "Willie Dynamite!" almost in unison!

I think it is still Wayans' best film, but I agree The Hammer would have added something, and certainly Pam Grier should have been here too--maybe she would have been unable to participate at the time due to her cancer battle.

odienator said...

Boone: The only other time I've been in a theater where the audience laughed as hard as they did at I'm Gonna Git You Sucka was at Coming to America. Nuff said.

Hal: where would you rank SUCKA in relation to the other two well-known parodies of the genre, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975) and UNDERCOVER BROTHER (2002)

I'll have to get back to you on that, as I haven't seen Strutters in AGES. Undercover Brother is very funny but, outside of Billy Dee Williams peddling "the Nappy Meal," and Doogie Howser hinting at his homosexuality while mocking it, I find myself remembering and quoting Sucka a lot more.

Just for mentioning Willie Dynamite, I shall sing his theme song for you. "Will-AAAAAAAAAY! Ohhhh-oh Will-ayyyyy Dee yeah, Will-ay Dee!" It's too bad my middle initial is O, otherwise I too could be Will-ay D.

Black Dynamite, from what I am told, is not what we think it is. Some people have said it's not really a comedy. I cautiously await hearing more about it. It stars Michael Jai White who, once upon a time, played Mike Tyson. Let's hope Black Dynamite is, as Mike would say, "ludikwis."