Diverting but disturbing, Eddie Griffin's stand-up concert film DysFunktional Family frequently feels wrong. Displaying little of the finesse of the best concert films, DysFunktional Family affords comedian and comic actor Griffin a dual opportunity: to record his riffs on film and to honor, obliquely, the familial influences which have shaped his life and work.
Director George Gallo follows Griffin home to Kansas City, Missouri, where an enthusiastic crowd eggs him through new and old material. Gallo fares poorly as director, mixing up the crowd sounds to an unreasonable level and failing to find a rhythm conducive to the onstage or off-stage material. Most of the film observes--with kinetic hyperactivity--Griffin's stage performance, but in choppily edited, too-brief asides, Griffin plays man-on-the-street and introduces his most eccentric family members.
Griffin's Uncle Curtis just about steals the show simply by earnestly rifling through his porn collection for the cameras. Another uncle, Buckey, sheepishly cops to a druggie-hustler past. Griffin goads his mother into recounting--as Griffin does in his act--her repeated whuppings of her rascally son (the lowlife highlight is their riotous, intercut account of Momma Griffin chasing Eddie down with her car). This cultural point endears Griffin to a been-there, done-that audience but also--and once again in black comic cinema--raises eyebrows for its tolerance and arguable promotion of a now politically incorrect child-rearing tactic.
Though out-and-out funny in short bursts, Griffin's routines are uneven and mostly old-hat, even the post-9/11 "we'll show those terrorists" boasts of airplane ass-kicking and the like (in one of many culturally offensive bits, Griffin also harangues a Sikh passerby as "Osama"). Griffin also chats about drugs (inexplicably, Griffin frames as humor his expert mime of a heroin junkie shooting up), cats, gender differences, and (naturally) sex. Griffin also goofs on pop culture, ribbing Michael Jackson with passive-agressive affection and rhetorically asking--in what sounds like an awkward reading from a comedy textbook--"What if Sammy Davis, Jr. worked at McDonald's?" Like it or not, you find out.
Eddie Griffin proved himself as a talented leading man in Undercover Brother, but DysFunktional Family presents borderline-ugly humor (which, in fact, too frequently crosses that border). Excusing himself with mock politeness following a homophobic jag, Griffin cheerily offers, "My bad. Did I go too far?" A better venue for Griffin's raunchy material would be pay cable, whose warm embrace could shelter DysFunktional Family from the obvious channel-flipping question: does Eddie Griffin truly rate a self-congratulatory concert film?