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Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (2024) review

Dir. Wade Allain-Marcus

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

While the external and cultural impact of the 1991 comedy Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead might be minimal compared to other films of its era, the fact that it was deemed noteworthy enough for a remake furthers its unlikely success story. The original was indifferently reviewed and performed rather modestly at the box office, but the secret weapon in its arsenal was being a product of HBO, who thankfully had multiple premium cable channels that needed to fill-time. Couple that with countless dollars spent on omnipresent advertising in video-stores, and VHS and rental sales pushed the film over the edge into cult status.

Now, we have the BET-commissioned remake of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, which more-or-less keeps the formula and spirit of the original in-tact. The film even appears to be shot in the exact same house as its predecessor. The only significant change is obvious: the family around which the story revolves is now African-American. Sure, there are minor changes to details, and the change in the family’s race opens the door for some racially charged/tinged jokes, but question remains the same: why go through the trouble of remaking Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead merely to tell the same jokes again?

Chuck Hayward’s script revolves around 17-year-old Tanya Crandell (Simone Joy Jones), whose excitement for the best summer yet is sullied when her widowed mother (Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams) has a nervous breakdown and leaves for a yoga retreat in Thailand. Instead of going to Spain with her friends as planned, Tanya and her siblings — bust-out Kenny (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.), eccentric Goth Melissa (Ayaamii Sledge), and impressionable Zack (Carter Young) — are set to be supervised by a 90-year-old babysitter named Ms. Sturak (June Squibb). She is an insufferably racist old codger who croaks the first night. Squibb’s extended cameo proves to merit the film’s biggest laughs.

After disposing of her body — in a sequence so self-aware that it dulls the comedy — the kids attempt to survive with no money and no parental supervision (calling their mother, they fear, will send her off the deep-end again). When food starts disappearing from the fridge, Tanya is forced to get a job, eventually landing a job as an assistant to Rose (a likable Nicole Richie), an exec at a fashion company in desperate need of a rebrand to court the Gen Z market.

The original Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead operated like a sitcom in how it so effortlessly transitioned from one scene to the next, incredulity be damned. Its script, written by Neil Landau and Tara Ison, who have story credits on this film, managed to inject some insight by having the two eldest children come to realize that floating a household, keeping up with bills, cooking for a whole family, and working 40+ hours a week is, in fact, a lot to deal with.

Before Tanya’s mom leaves, she announces that “the bills are on autopay.” I realize that’s a minute little nugget of info in the long-run, but what if the electricity bill didn’t get paid and the kids had to live in darkness? What if the water-heater broke, or the heat malfunctioned? What if anything different happened in this already questionable remake of a B-tier 90s classic so we wouldn’t have to see the same movie twice, the latter now about as appealing as three-day-old leftovers?

Like Dumb Money, this version of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is hampered by loud, odd music choices with lyrics that aren’t germane to the plot and don’t invigorate the scenes in which they’re present. Oftentimes, the song is played for a few fleeting seconds, sometimes for only one bar, fading out quickly and inexplicably enough that you feel like a fool for adjusting the volume on your TV. The editing can be abrupt too, with hard cuts and abrupt transitions that give the impression this was chopped in post-production.

What a remake of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead could’ve used is the comedic hands of the Wayans brothers. Think about it: “Don’t Tell Mom the Baby-Daddy’s Dead.” Before you bristle, do you remember Fifty Shades of Black? Such a reworking would’ve gotten people talking as opposed to what we got, which won’t merit a look from most as people rush on to the next piece of “content” to distract them as the cycle repeats.

NOTE: Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is now available to stream exclusively on BET+, which requires a subscription.

My review of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)

Starring: Simone Joy Jones, Donielle Tremaine Hansley, Nicole Richie, Ayaamii Sledge, Carter Young, Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams, June Squibb, and Jermaine Fowler. Directed by: Wade Allain-Marcus.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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