LITTLE MAN and YOU, ME, & DUPREE
Much as I try to prepare for every new cinematic experience with an open mind, sometimes it simply can't be done, as when the advertisements for a new release proudly proclaim: "From the creators of White Chicks!" So it was this past weekend, when Little Man, directed and co-written by White Chicks auteur Keenen Ivory Wayans, debuted. I'm not sure I can adequately express just how much I was not looking forward to this comedic opus; not only did I not laugh once at the grotesque White Chicks (nor, for that matter, at Wayans' Scary Movie and its first sequel), but as I recall, through the entire course of its running length, I actively frowned.
Yet I still had hope that my movie-going weekend wasn't going to be a total wash. Opening on the same day was the comedy You, Me, & Dupree, which really didn't look any more inspired than Little Man, but at least featured performers I liked - Owen Wilson, Matt Dillon, Kate Hudson - and didn't appear to be completely repellent. (I had a foreboding about Little Man when the trailer's pièce de résistance involved Marlon Wayans being probed with a rectal thermometer.) With an afternoon scheduled to attend both movies, I did what made the most sense - I decided to catch Little Man first, thereby getting the (expected) horrifically unfunny out of the way quickly, and wrap up the day with Dupree, giving myself the best possible chance of heading home in a good mood. It was a foolproof plan.
In theory. But unfortunately, I didn't know then what I know now: Little Man, as crummy as it is, isn't all that bad. And You, Me, & Dupree, with its talented cast, and with directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) boasting credits on Arrested Development, is almost unbearable. Little Man may be be designed for fans of White Chicks, but Dupree seems designed for fans of Gigli.
In case you don't understand my initial hesitancy about Little Man even considering White Girls, let me summarize the plot for you. Marlon Wayans plays Calvin, a three-foot-tall thief whose latest score - a precious diamond - accidentally winds up in the possession of Darryl and Vanessa (Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington), a sweet pair of childless suburbanites. In order to reclaim the booty, Calvin disguises himself as a baby, deposits himself on the couple's doorstep, and is taken inside. Securing the diamond, however, proves more difficult than Calvin imagined, and the miniature crook must endure the comic humiliations of being treated as an infant, complete with baths, diaper changes, and yes, that thermometer. Yet there is an upside - with the couple slathering him with well-meaning affection, Calvin also discovers the first selfless love he's ever known.
Laughing yet? Retching yet?
By rights, Little Man should be positively god-awful. (Certainly, Keenen Ivory Wayans' filmmaking remains god-awful, as scenes continually go on about three beats longer than they should, and the staging has the obvious blandness of a third-rate sitcom.) With routines involving Calvin's excitement about being breast-fed and the enormity of what he's packing beneath his diaper, the movie is profoundly juvenile, which wouldn't be a bad thing if only the jokes were funny. However, as is typical in a Wayans work, the crude setups here don't lead to any good punchlines - the setups are the punchlines - and the gags are repeated with insulting regularity. You may find yourself giggling the first time Calvin socks Darryl in the nuts. How about the 20th time?
Yet Little Man, amazingly, has a few trump cards up its sleeve, not least of which are the means by which Marlon Wayans actually does appear to be three feet tall. The trickery isn't seamless - there's a vague fuzziness around Marlon's head that hints at the high-tech photo-shopping at work - but in a more than a few scenes, you stare at the stunt with a goofy grin plastered on your face; Little Man isn't Zelig, or even Forrest Gump, but the joke is sustained with far greater finesse than expected. Special effects these days are so frequently used as action-film filler, keeping us from realizing that there's nothing else going on in the movie (Pirates 2, anyone?), that their employment in a comedy, and in service to the story, no less, is refreshing, even in the context of Little Man.
What's also refreshing is the surprising sweetness of the movie. Sure, Calvin Learning to Love is a saccharine embarrassment, but there's nothing embarrassing about the work of Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington, whose on-screen rapport feels genuine and loving, or about the friendly performances of Fred Stoller and Alex Borstein as fellow newbie parents. Even Marlon Wayans, his infant shtick more underplayed than you might guess, pulls off a touching moment every now and again. I only laughed out loud at Little Man once (during a grumpy Tracy Morgan rant that totally caught me off guard), but I smiled far more often that I planned to; the film still isn't worth seeing, but - thank the gods - it sure isn't White Chicks.
You, Me, & Dupree isn't White Chicks, either. That might be a step up. The film concerns newlyweds Carl and Molly (Dillon and Hudson), whose lives are turned upside-down by the arrival of Carl's best friend Dupree (Wilson), an aimless, jobless slacker who moves into their home. For a while, the movie is The Odd Couple with Dillon and Hudson sharing the Felix Unger role, and while it's not funny, at least it's harmless.
But then the strangest thing happens. Dupree gets kicked out of the house (for nearly burning it down), soon finds himself invited back in, and at that point, it's as if the entire movie took a tumble down Alice's rabbit hole - all of a sudden, nothing makes sense. Everything we were told and shown about the characters in the first half is negated by the second, and the incoherence becomes so staggering that, by movie's end, you have to remind yourself that you're still in the same auditorium you started in. Why are Dupree and Molly suddenly the best of friends? Why is the level-headed Carl now a hostile company man? Why is Carl's boss and father-in-law (a deeply unamusing Michael Douglas) demanding that Carl get a vasectomy? Why is Dupree romantically obsessed with a character we're never allowed to meet? Why is the junk-food-swilling Dupree now a health nut with the talents of a sous-chef? Why is this movie congratulating the increasingly more-annoying Dupree for everything he does? (Why does Owen Wilson's ego appear to have reached Sandler-size proportions?) By the end of You, Me, & Dupree, I was so stupefied that I barely had the energy to rouse myself out of my seat, and I drove home from my double-feature in a completely foul mood. The best-laid plans, indeed.