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"LITTLE MAN"
(2006) (Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A diminutive criminal poses as an abandoned infant to try to retrieve a stolen diamond from a couple who unknowingly possess the valuable gem.
PLOT:
Calvin Sims (MARLON WAYANS) is a little person who's just been released from prison and reunited with his somewhat dimwitted partner in crime, Percy (TRACY MORGAN). The two have an offer from crime lord Walken (CHAZZ PALMINTERI) to steal a valuable diamond, but during the subsequent heist the police arrive and Calvin ditches the gem in a woman's purse. Following Darryl (SHAWN WAYANS) and Vanessa Edwards (KERRY WASHINGTON) back to their suburban Chicago house, the two criminals come up with a plan.

Since Calvin is so small and Darryl is desirous of having a family, they'll pose the con as an abandoned infant so that the childless couple will take him in, thus allowing him access to the house to retrieve the diamond. But that's easier said than done, as Calvin must not only cope with being treated as an infant, but he must also deal with Vanessa's suspicious and self-centered father, Pops (JOHN WITHERSPOON), as well as outings with the couple's married friends, Greg (LOCHLYN MUNRO) & Brittany (BRITTANY DANIEL) and Richard (FRED STROLLER) & Janet (ALEX BORSTEIN).

With Walken giving them twenty-four hours to deliver the stone, Calvin and Percy do what they can to get their hands on it, all while Calvin contends with the indignities of childhood as well as some unexpected bonding of being Darryl and Vanessa's surprise son.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
I have no idea when the first "crotch shot" appeared on film -- I'm referring to the forceful impact on a man's groin area and not some voyeuristic view commonly found in porno films -- but they've certainly become something of a cinematic staple, especially in live action kids films. Aside from fart and poop jokes, there's nothing like a shot to the ol' crotch to get the little ones giggling (and any male adults within eye or earshot uncomfortably recoiling from the thought and/or any memories of the same).

I'm guessing that's supposed to be the appeal of "Little Man" where said activity occurs so many times I lost count (there's even a montage dedicated specifically to that painful brand of comedy). Yet, the problem -- among a myriad of them plaguing the effort from start to finish -- is that this really isn't a film for kids, or at least young ones, despite other elements that would seem to designate it otherwise.

Chief among them is the main plot. Penned by writer/director Keenen Ivory Wayans along with Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans it concerns a recently released inmate -- who happens to be a small person - who must pretend to be a recently abandoned infant. That's so the adult convict and his criminal partner can infiltrate the home of a married, but childless couple who unwittingly possess a stolen and valuable diamond. Accordingly, the adult in infant's clothing is then subjected to all sort of childhood indignities (rectal thermometer, anyone), while simultaneously conning or otherwise putting other adults in their place.

I suppose there's a smattering of potential in such a premise since, after all, the old Bugs Bunny "Baby Finster" cartoon short did something similar (and decades later "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" did a funny bit of homage with its profane, cigar smoking Baby Herman character who played an innocent infant onscreen). The advantage both had was that they were short animated bits peppered with some clever and imaginative writing.

Under the guidance of director K.I. Wayans, this film isn't short or animated and it's the antithesis of anything that could remotely be called smart. But that really shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that the filmmaker and his movie posse have been churning out dreck like "White Girls" and most parts of the "Scary Movie" films for years. Even their efforts back on TV's "In Living Color" were lowbrow, but at least they were occasionally funny, and they were appropriately and blessedly short.

Alas, this film isn't (clocking in at a bit more than 100 minutes) and its humor is clearly of the sophomoric, lowest common denominator variety. Not that there's anything wrong with that if it's hilarious or smartly done, but this film just doesn't meet that criteria (although certain audience members at our advance screening clearly thought it was the funniest thing they'd seen since, oh I don't know, "White Chicks").

Like that film that never even came close to believably turning two black men into the title creations (which, I'm guessing was supposed to be part of the joke, but didn't work), this one never makes anyone believe that Calvin is actually a real human being.

Using special effects to superimpose Marlon's head onto the body of child actors who took turns playing the part of his body, the end result never looks real. I'm guessing that's similarly supposed to be part of the gag, but the only thing it does is make all of the adults around him come off as clueless idiots. It would work in an animated offering since that genre is given more latitude when it comes to what's accepted as realism, but it's simply too jarring and distracting in a live-action film such as this.

Of course, if the filmmakers had surrounded the character with hilarious material, we might have been easily distracted and thus more accepting of the look. Instead, they deliver the aforementioned crotch shot material, along with the requisite scatological humor, breastfeeding equals access to breasts gags, and other sexual material that makes this film decidedly too adult for what would otherwise seem its natural, young audience.

There are also bits featuring various exaggerated parental types -- Lochlyn Munroe as an ultra-competitive dad who doesn't understand the meaning of "touch" football and Molly Shannon as a van-driving soccer mom who does anything but pay attention to the road while transporting her brood -- but they similarly lack any sort of spark to make them memorable (especially since the out of place, bone-crunching tackles have been seen countless times before in other films).

In fact, most of the jokes are so common and telegraphed that you know what's coming long before it gets there (such as the title character and his "adoptive" father drinking milk that, shock of all shocks, turns out to be a friend's breast milk -- thus generating the equally predictable dual spit-take).

Worse yet, there's a subplot featuring Chazz "What Am I Doing in This Film" Palminteri as some sort of crime lord who wants the stolen diamond and thus only occasionally appears in the film until the end when he has to arrive with goons and gun in hand for some final bits of rough action (including, yes, you guessed it, another shot to the crotch).

The less said about the performances the better, with Shawn W. playing the hapless father, Kerry Washington the standard issue wife, Marlon W. the head (of the) villain and Tracy Morgan as his naturally dimwitted partner in crime. A number of other Wayans' regulars appear in smaller roles (as does a comedian who usually does the same in most Adam Sandler flicks), but they don't fair any better than their higher-paid counterparts.

Trying to spoof parenthood and parenting while delivering all sorts of below the belt humor, all the film did for me was make me long for the likes of Babies Finster or Herman who were smart enough never to overstay their welcome, especially in a live-action flick. About as painful to watch as a kick to the groin, "Crotch Shots" -- I mean "Little Man" rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed July 12, 2006 / Posted July 14, 2006


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