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No Laughing Matter 

Two new comedies flail and fail

There's so much terribly wrong with the terrible You, Me and Dupree (* out of four) that we can afford to be charitable and look at its positive attributes -- uh, better make that attribute, singular. Roughly 60 seconds in this film rank as among the most charming and romantic ever committed to celluloid, moments so magical that one's faith in the power of cinema is momentarily restored. Unfortunately, that minute consists of footage from the Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck classic Roman Holiday, which slacker Dupree happens to be watching on TV. Shoehorning Roman Holiday into this cesspool of a movie seems almost cruel, the cinematic equivalent of throwing a newborn kitten into a pen full of rabid Rottweilers.

Then again, inflicting pain -- both on its characters and on hapless audience members -- seems to be the play of the day as far as this movie is concerned. Owen Wilson plays Dupree, a man-child (Hollywood's favorite character type of late, as evidenced by The Break-Up, Failure to Launch and any Will Ferrell vehicle) who, left without a home or a job, is invited to stay for a couple of days with his lifelong best friend Carl (Matt Dillon) and Carl's new wife Molly (Kate Hudson). It takes about 10 seconds before Dupree starts being a nuisance in the eyes of his hosts -- watching TV instead of searching for a job, sleeping naked on their beloved couch and nearly setting the house on fire during a lovemaking session with a librarian that involves greasing her up with butter (shades of Last Tango In Paris, and probably the only time Wilson will have something in common with Marlon Brando).

You, Me and Dupree will doubtless serve as the ultimate litmus test when it comes to one's tolerance of Wilson's patented hangdog slacker routine. Effective when used in the service of a likable character (Wedding Crashers, Meet the Parents), it's endlessly irritating when attached to a role as obnoxious as Dupree. Individually, costars Dillon and Hudson are fine, but together they have zero chemistry -- their on-screen unfamiliarity with each other is so pronounced that one gets the idea the actors only met for the first time about two minutes before the cameras started rolling.

A black-comedy specialist like Danny DeVito might have wrung some wicked laughs out of this material (his underrated Duplex shares a faintly similar plotline), but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, working from a laughless script by Mike LeSieur, ratchet up the unpleasantness without leavening it with any compensating humor. And after an hour of the expected gross-out gags (backed up toilet, masturbating into a sock), the film decides to turn sentimental on us, involving Dupree in an excruciating chase sequence that somehow ends with this reformed couch potato saving Carl and Molly's marriage, Carl's job, his own self-respect -- in short, saving everything except the movie itself.

THE VISUAL EFFECTS in Little Man (*1/2 out of four) won't put the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic out of business, but it's only fair to note that they're surprisingly effective. That's the good news.

The bad news is that they're in the service of a feeble comedy that's nowhere near as outrageous as one might reasonably expect from the makers of Scary Movie and White Chicks. Marlon Wayans, head digitally attached to a smaller body, stars as Calvin Sims, a dwarf whose first action upon being released from prison is to steal a valuable diamond. The heist goes off as planned, but subsequent developments lead to the priceless bauble ending up in the home of unsuspecting couple Darryl and Vanessa Edwards (Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington). In order to gain access to the house and take back the diamond, Calvin disguises himself as a baby who's been left in a basket on the Edwards' front porch. Naturally, before the door can be opened, a dog wanders along and urinates all over Calvin's face. That's a mere warm-up to the gags that take place after Calvin infiltrates the Edwards household, stale bits involving (but not limited to) comments on the size of the baby's manhood, breast-feeding, repeated blows to Darryl's crotch and, of course, the changing of Calvin's diaper.

A robustly performed sequence involving a rectal thermometer is amusing (or maybe I just felt compelled to laugh at something), but the rest is rather slapdash and bare, despite Marlon's Herculean efforts to turn Calvin into a notable comic creation. Yet the overall impression is that director Keenen Ivory Wayans felt constrained by a PG-13 rating when he really had an R in mind. The raunchy humor indicates this frame of mind, and the presence of John Witherspoon -- no stranger to foul-mouthed roles -- likewise suggests a yearning to be as nasty as they wanna be. I'm not saying an R rating would have necessarily made Little Man a better movie, but at least it would have made it a more honest one.

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