[Screen It]


(2003) (Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans) (R)

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Comedy: After temporarily taking over her father's record label, a Jewish American princess finds herself falling for the hard-core rapper whose act she's trying to tone down.
Marci Feld (LISA KUDROW) is a privilege and pampered socialite who enjoys hanging out with her friends, Lauren (JANE KRAKOWSKI), Kirstin (SHERIE RENE SCOTT) and Caitlin (VEANNE COX). Her world is turned upside down, however, when the business empire run by her father, Ben Feld (RICHARD BENJAMIN), draws the venomous protests of U.S. Senator Spinkle (CHRISTINE BARANSKI).

It seems that part of Feld's empire includes the rap label Felony Assault, run by the imprisoned Tubby Fenders (BILLY GRIFFITH). One of Fenders' acts, Dr. S (DAMON WAYANS), has just released a rap album that's caused an uproar among conservatives and Spinkle not only has called for a boycott of everything Fender runs, but also a Congressional hearing on the matter.

As a result, Feld has a heart attack and is hospitalized for two weeks of media isolation so that he can recover. With the same amount of time before the hearing, Marci decides to take matters into her own hands and change Dr. S's public image. While that doesn't sit well with Tubby or Dr. S's girlfriend, Yolanda Quinone (PAULA GARCES), the Jewish American princess and the hardcore rapper find themselves increasingly attracted to each other as they prepare for their showdown with the Senator.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
In the 1950s, the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis generated controversy and protests among those who viewed their behavior as lewd, crude and even unlawful. In the following decades, and despite changing and relaxed social and legal mores, others who followed suit in raising the ire of certain groups included The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Prince and Marilyn Manson.

Few have generated as much reaction, however, as rap artists. Due to the blatant sexual and violent lyrics that permeate some of their songs, there have been all sorts of measures introduced to regulate, censor or stop such performers from plying their trade.

Certain movies and filmmakers have garnered their own share of bad press for similar material. Unlike their music counterparts, however, they rarely spoof, ridicule or attack their detractors in their subsequent work. Thus, when a film comes along that attempts to do that, it's something of a big deal, and one hopes that it will be a well thought-out, creative and imaginative effort.

Alas, "Marci X" is none of the above. As a tale of a Jewish American princess who falls for the controversial black rap artist whose image she's trying to tone down to save her father's company and prove her own self-worth, the film certainly has potential. That's not only from a straight comedy standpoint regarding the obvious culture clash, but also all of the political, racial and social elements that could be explored to varying degrees of satirical effect.

Unfortunately, writer Paul Rudnick ("Isn't She Great," "In & Out") and director Richard Benjamin ("Mrs. Winterbourne," "Milk Money") - the latter of whom appears in the film in a supporting role -- treat the material like a second-rate skit that probably wouldn't have succeeded on "Saturday Night Live" or "In Living Color," let alone as a feature length effort.

Granted, comedy is the hardest of all genres to pull off and what might have looked good on paper doesn't necessarily mean it will work on film. That's true here as the final result is rather benign, not to mention extremely lame and bungled, when it comes to attacking the conservative element. One would think in general that the rap lyrics of the included songs would be imaginatively scathing, but that's not the case.

To make matters worse, the comedy and most of the characters are played so broadly that everything feels far more annoying that amusing. Lead performers Lisa Kudrow ("Lucky Numbers," "Hanging Up") and Damon Wayans ("Bamboozled," "Bulletproof") manage to escape much of that - although they're hampered by other problems, including poorly written characters - but those in supporting roles act as if they're afflicted with some sort of bad acting plague.

Christine Baranski ("Chicago," "The Guru") gets the unfortunate and unwise task of playing the venomous conservative Senator in a role that's nothing but overplayed and pure caricature. Considering she's the antagonist, it's also odd that she disappears for a great deal of the movie and thus robs the effort of that external conflict.

Then there is Jane Krakowski ("The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," TV's "Ally McBeal"), Sherie Rene Scott (making her feature debut) and Veanne Cox ("Two Weeks Notice," "You've Got Mail") who play Kudrow's best friends as if they've been transplanted from some campy 1960s romantic comedy. They're supposed to be funny, but they're anything but that, particularly when they suddenly break into song as backup singers for Kudrow's impromptu but predictable and unrealistic rap.

Kudrow and Wayans are charismatic performers, but they simply can't do anything with their characters as written. The chemistry - both antagonistic and later romantic - is both misguided and flat, and there are so many missed opportunities that you don't know if you should feel sorry for them or mad that they didn't recognize the mess in which they were appearing. That's especially true for Kudrow who has to think about her post-"Friends" career.

While it's not the worst thing you'll ever see - although at times it tries mighty hard to be just that - it's certainly far from the clever, funny and/or entertaining satire one presumes it was supposed to be. "Marci X" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed August 22, 2003 / Posted August 23, 2003

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