To be successful at standup comedy - regardless of whether the venue is a small comedy club or a concert hall with tens of thousands of people - one most obviously be funny. To do so, however, one must usually sample from a variety of topics that often include current events, one's personal life and the overall human condition.
Added to that, one must obviously be a good and effective storyteller, while connecting with one's audience on a personal and communal level -- so that everyone can relate to or identify with the joke or humorous material at hand -- is always a good plus.
Comedian turned actor turned returning standup performer Martin Lawrence has all of that at his disposal in "Martin Lawrence: Runteldat," a filmed appearance from two days of concerts in January 2002. Like his other concert film, 1994's "You So Crazy," this one has the comedian riffing on sex, relationships, being black and the like.
Since that performance, however, Lawrence has not only gone to become a big Hollywood star in films such as "Bad Boys" and "Big Momma's House," but he's also had various run-ins with the law, hospital stays and tabloid stories that have encircled - and in his mind persecuted - him of recent.
Following an introductory film of about ten minutes that examines all of that and bits of Lawrence's life, the comedian then makes his way onto the stage where he intermittently gives his version of what really happened. In doing so, he obviously milks the material for all that it's worth from a comedy standpoint, such as going on about a bad drug reaction, picking the wrong hot day to go jogging, and losing bodily function independence in the hospital.
Not surprisingly, the material is irreverent, raucous and profane, although not to the point of earning an NC-17 rating like the last time around. There also seems to be something of a softening or at least more introspective nature to the comedian as he goes on about how grateful he is for his success and how one only goes through life once.
It's hard to tell if that's really genuine, however, or just a manipulative ploy to get back his apparently dwindling fan base (his last two films combined didn't come close to equaling the box office clout of "Big Momma's House"). He also strives for the U.S. patriotic vote by doing some material on the events of Sept. 11th (which were obviously more timely when the concert was filmed) that also feel a bit more manipulative than congruous with the rest of the material.
Spanning other topics such as childbirth, S&M sex, the comedian's obsession with breasts, prenuptial agreements and more, Lawrence's material only occasionally reconnects back to earlier jokes, unlike that of other standup comedians who are far more creative and witty in doing so.
There's only so much that director David Raynr ("Whatever It Takes," "Trippin") can do with the material -- after the opening mini documentary - other than the standard cutting between multiple angles of Lawrence on stage and cutaways to the audience's reaction. As such, the film does feel a bit long even at its circa 90 minute runtime, particularly when Lawrence occasionally and somewhat abruptly and clumsily switches gears between topics.
Overall, viewer reaction to the material and Lawrence himself will probably vary wildly. Diehard fans will obviously eat up and enjoy what's offered to them, but casual ones and newcomers will probably find most of the material as more amusing than hilarious, if that.
For what it's worth, I've never been a huge fan of Lawrence or his brand and style of acting or comedy. Accordingly, my hesitant and subdued reaction should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps I was tired or in the wrong mood for what was offered.
Then again, perhaps the mediocre and often recycled material simply isn't that good. Whatever the case, I didn't find much of the film as very funny or entertaining, although others at our screening did. Fine for his fans but a definite skip for most everyone else, "Martin Lawrence: Runteldat" basically didn't do much for me and thus rates as just a 3 out of 10.