[Screen It]


(2019) (Regina Hall, Issa Rae) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A hard-charging, no-nonsense tech executive experiences her worst nightmare when she wakes up one morning and is an awkward 14-year-old again.
Jordan Sanders (REGINA HALL) is a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners tech executive, who drives an expensive sports car, owns a penthouse condo, and has a closet full of designer clothes. But when we first meet her, she is a nerdy, 14-year-old, middle school student (MARSAI MARTIN) who is bullied by her classmates. When she is embarrassed in front of the entire school, she vows to one day become a boss and never need people again.

Flash forward to the present day, and Jordan indeed owns her own firm, is a bully to her employees, cuts in lines, drives like the entire road is her own, and so forth. But she picks on the wrong person in the form of 14-year-old Stevie (MARLEY TAYLOR), the daughter of a food-truck vendor outside of Jordan's firm who fashions herself a magician. After Jordan dresses her down and refers to her as a fire hazard, Stevie casts a spell on Jordan that she be made a teen again. The next morning, Jordan indeed wakes up as her awkward middle-school self.

Her only ally is her put-upon assistant, April (ISSA RAE), who she has verbally and psychologically abused for years. With a big pitch meeting with a major corporate client named Connor (MIKEY DAY) looming, April struggles to rally her colleague Preston (TONE BELL) and their coworkers to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, local law enforcement has compelled April to enroll Jordan in her old middle school, where she is immediately picked on by the popular Jasmine (EVA CARLTON); crushes on her hunky homeroom teacher Mr. Marshall (JUSTIN HARTLEY); and forced to sit with three unpopular kids named Raina, Isaac, and Devon (THALIA TRAN, JD McCRARY, and TUCKER MEEK) at lunch.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Sometimes I come off as the "people's reviewer," the "nice reviewer," perhaps the "too-nice reviewer." If there is good in a bad flick, I'll sometimes let that good over-rule the bad and give the flick a mild recommendation, a pass, a "See it, but pay matinee prices or wait for pay-per-view" sign-off. Well, I am not in the mood to do that with "Little." There is good in the film, specifically a dynamite child performance by Marsai Martin and one of the best uses of wardrobe I've seen in a flick set in the modern day. Seriously, I flat-out LOVED the clothes everyone wore in this flick!

But "Little" is just not a good movie. It has a messy screenplay, shifting tones, and missed opportunities throughout. It has a premise that should have made it easy to hang some funny jokes and decent gags on. But there are only a handful of real laughs throughout. "Little" is broad, safe, largely risk-free entertainment that, sure, you can take your mother, your daughter, or your best friend to. But none of you will remember it a week from now.

Regina Hall stars as Jordan, a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners ice queen who has built an Atlanta-based technology company that she's been able to populate solely with staff members she can verbally and psychologically (and, in one scene, even physically) abuse, demean, and bully. Her reason? Because she was bullied back in middle school. Seriously! High school didn't get any better for her. Neither did college apparently. At 14, she decided to be equal parts Cruella de Vil, Alexis Carrington, and Anna Wintour and never looked back.

She eventually locks horns with the wrong person -- a 14-year-old girl named Stevie (Marley Taylor) -- who fashions herself a street magician and casts a spell on Jordan that she be little again so she could be bullied. Jordan wakes up the next morning as her old, awkward, nerdy self from three decades earlier. She immediately convinces her put-upon assistant, April (Issa Rae), to masquerade as her aunt in front of Child Services and to be her surrogate at her company so things continue to run smoothly. Child Services orders Jordan back to middle school, and April is tasked with keeping a bratty billionaire tech mogul (Mikey Day) as the firm's No. 1 client.

Amazingly, none of this leads to big laughs. This is a formula film, sure -- a fish-out-of-water story combined with a modern-day Scrooge redemption tale. But a bare minimum of effort was given here to producing anything remotely distinctive. All concerned seem to think that just the accomplishment of a predominantly African-American cast getting to make a variation of "Big"/"Freaky Friday"/"13 Going on 30" is worth seeing. It's not. You still have to deliver a good movie. This is on par with the lesser films in this sub-genre like "17 Again," "18 Again," and "Like Father, Like Son."

The real shame here is, this could have been a fun comedy. Martin carries "Little" in a way a teen actor hasn't in some time. She takes over the screen, and you really believe she IS Regina Hall as a 14-year-old. Issa Rae also is a steady anchor, the movie's adult through line (Hall is only in the first 10 minutes of the movie and the last 10 minutes). And the film at least moves along at a brisk pace and doesn't feel any longer than its running time.

But there are whole plot threads and potential comic subplots ignored or simply discarded. Justin Hartley of "This Is Us" appears as Jordan's hunky new teacher, who both Jordan and April initially lust over. But if you've seen the trailers and the commercials for this flick, you've seen this dude's part in the film. He disappears just past the halfway mark and is never seen again. Also, early on, there is a good scene that sets up a rivalry with Jordan's next-door neighbor, a single mother who is obviously in the woman's business. That woman gets one more scene where she calls Child Services and is never heard from again in the film. Jordan's parents are in the 1993-set opening when Jordan is still 14 for real, but are only seen in a photograph thereafter. Both dead in 2019? Who knows.

And it truly feels like director-screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism didn't really sit down and think of any of the comic possibilities of a savvy, thirty-something millionaire (!) suddenly being thrust back into middle school. Do you know the damage I could have done back in my teen years with the credit limits on this woman's charge cards? I also think Chism did the film a disservice early on by making Jordan SO unlikable as an adult. The bullied becoming the bully is another storyline that's been done before many times. But, here, Jordan is so relentlessly mean and outright rude, that you're given very little to root for in her redemption.

And Chism's screenplay could have been sharper on a social commentary front. One of the best lines in the flick is when Jordan and April realize they're in a variation of "Big" and "Freaky Friday" and observe, "Those are white people stories!" "Little" needed more moments like that. Then maybe it could have lived large at the box office. I give this a generous 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed April 9, 2017 / Posted April 12, 2017

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