Warner Bros. // 2003 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 19th, 2003
Don't be hating.
"Oh, oh: you see, the kids, they listen to the rap music which gives them the brain damage. With their hippin', and the hoppin', and the bippin', and the boppin'..." -- The Simpsons
Tell it to the Lost Poets. Tell it to Kurtis Blow. Round up Whodini, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Afrika Bambaata. Sit them all down and try to find a way to explain how the music they helped pioneer, the culture comet they helped fuse and explode onto the world, is now a multi-billion dollar mass media mess. When it began, it was all about the poetry, about a hard-edged view of ghetto life meshed with personal plaudits and platitudes. But somewhere along the line, it stopped being about the bullshit and starting stinking of only the Benjamins.
While it's hard to pinpoint just where rap went wrong, if we had to hold someone's expensive sneakers to the fires, the name Sean P. Puffy Piddy Diddy Combs comes springing to mind. It's not like he started out wanting to whitewash the message. Someone somewhere could probably explain the stark slave realities behind turning old '80s pop songs into beatbox sample fests. From the moment Puffy shrieked over Led Zeppelin's Kashmir -- left virtually intact from its Physical Graffiti incarnation -- hip-hop stopped being important and started being sold out. True, artists like 50 Cent, Ludacris, and even Snoop Dogg have tried to find ways of "keeping it real," but with hazy memories of MC Hammer's house and one-hit-wonderdom staring them in the stanza, a re-mix with Beyonce or Mariah ain't too far away.
It's gotten so bad that now a quasi-talented white guy named Jamie Kennedy can attempt a spoof of the impact black music and lifestyle have had on dumb Caucasians. But if Malibu's Most Wanted shows us anything, it's that the shout-outs being sent may be just as culpable as the clueless honkies buying into it.
Bill Gluckman is running for Governor of California. Poised to win the election, he holds a press conference to introduce his family. Unfortunately, his son Bradley shows up. This bozo considers himself a "gangsta from the ghetto" and believes he is a rapper named B-Rad. He proceeds to embarrass himself and his father. Dad is desperate because voters find the great white dope a political liability. B-Rad will cost him elected office.
So members of Gluckman's staff devise a plan. They will hire two black actors, have them portray hardcore gang members from Compton, and get them to fake "kidnap" Brad. They will then take him to the real hood and try to scare him "white." Initially, the plan goes well. Sean and PJ carjack the moron and take him to the home of PJ's relative, the real life ghetto queen Shondra. She finds this whole plan silly, but goes along with it for the money she needs to open her own beauty salon.
During Brad's captivity, Sean and PJ try to intimidate him, force him to rob a convenience store, and even drag him to a club to perform onstage. But when Shondra's old boyfriend Tec gets the wrong idea about her and B-Rad, he decides to kill the dolt. Then Tec learns that the idjit is the kidnapped son of the gubernatorial candidate. Now he wants a piece of the action.
Between gang shootouts and hanging out with the homies, it becomes clear that this pale pink poser may actually be the real deal. One thing's for sure though. He really is Malibu's Most Wanted.
The time has come to ask the white boys and girls of Wonder Bread USA just what the Fubu their fascination is with hip-hop and rap. Now, before bigots raise their retarded roofs or pundits feel the need to shriek prejudice, this critic has much love and respect for black/African American/urban culture. For me personally it has, in many ways, surpassed the milquetoast tripe that Anglo-Saxon idiots seem to exude while in their superficial sleep. From outrageous comedy to slammin' soul jams, from the defiance of Def Jam to the "in yo' face" rage of N.W.A., hip-hop and rap have shown that, for a second time this century, the disenfranchised of our great nation can still "overcome" to create a musical monster that can be considered solely theirs (the first being jazz).
So, you pale pukes and pushup-bra Prep school punks, why attempt to adopt it? Why try and make it what it can never ever be, which is part of you? Marshall Mathers, who does have a certain amount of natural talent and charisma, mind you, can walk the thin line between being "down" and being dumb and no one gives it a second thought. But his is a question of ability, not skin color. If not he'd be just a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sequel away from a co-headlining tour with Rap Van Winkle, Vanilla Ice. To so readily relate to an entertainment source this closely linked to a social climate and circumstances you've never experienced seems subconsciously racist itself. There's no better way to belittle someone's truth than to claim it for your "peeps."
But apparently putrid pink America is captivated by the strong stance and freestyling life lessons described by sucker MCs. Evidently finding it more and more difficult to ignore, while at the same time easier and easier to relate to (rap has shuttled from powerful to political to party in the last few years, the better to bleed the buttheads' bank accounts dry), the peach-skinned sheep of youth culture simply dive in headfirst, like frat boys at a binge drinking contest. And like most other completely clueless-come-latelys, they have to find a way to cope with the comments and the questions. So what do they decide to do? They go and make a joke out of it.
Malibu's Most Wanted is that most misguiding of movies. In comedy, there is satire or sitcom, shtick or just plain stupid. Jamie Kennedy's cinematic starring vehicle, based on a character created for his well-respected Jamie Kennedy Experiment television show on the WB, is supposed to showcase how hilarious it is that so many white suburban kids are lining up to lick Eminem's do rag or kiss Busta Rhymes's rump. But it forgets exactly what it wants to say. It's too light to be a spoof, too superficial to get to the real meat of why rap culture inspires so many privileged peons. But then, when it has chances and avenues to explore real issues of social and even ethnic importance, it merely sidesteps the entire issue for the sake of a stupid pratfall or a naïve bit of street narrative.
So at first, when we aren't quite sure what it's gunning for, Malibu's Most Wanted is funny. Not hilarious or riotous, just funny. It offers a few solid laughs, a couple of dead-on cultural lampoons and the potential to build into a savage satire of the entire "wigger" nation. But the minute the movie cops out, when it forwards a "B-Rad is honestly this way" ideal, the entire film deflates. It's like the day you discover that your favorite musicians are really mindless morons, their genius for guitar or drums failing to translate into an intelligent thought about the world around them. We're ready to superimpose a lot of things onto Kennedy's cretinous creation, waiting to expose his horrible hypocrisy, but as we formulate he slips out the back door and tries to turn the tables on us.
And it's at this point that the entire enterprise just doesn't work. Sure, there's a moment here and there when characters or circumstances get our attention and remind us of what this movie could really be. But when a final showdown occurs between a gang with gats and a group toting muskets and spear guns, it's clear that the filmmakers have lost their way. The material at the basis for Malibu's Most Wanted -- i.e. the suburbanization of black culture -- is just so ripe for insightful irony that when it constantly misses its mark, this movie no longer makes you merry and really starts to piss you off.
Part of the problem is with the casting. Kennedy is a lightweight, still in the learning stages of what people like Christopher Guest and Michael McKean do so naturally and brilliantly. He doesn't inhabit Brad so much as make him up from a bunch of archetypal pieces. Brad is not really a white boy in love with rap music and hip-hop culture: he is an Ebonics-expounding robot, filled with inappropriate hand gestures and misguided media motivated moves. But no one in the film finds this false. They question why a white boy would want to try to be so ghetto, and race separates the sides at first. But by the time he has blanketed a gang war with Uzi spray, Brad is totally accepted by everyone. They never once argue that he can't act or "be" black; all they seem to question is why he wants to. Kennedy is without the layers to make Brad a complex, intriguing character. And as a result, the cinematic center to Malibu's Most Wanted is soft and mushy.
On the outskirts of this quagmire are the ancillary characters, none of which resonate as realistic. Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson are never really convincing as either badass gangbangers or fey actors. They seem motivationally lost, never knowing whether to play it up or on the down-low. Regina Hall is also undermined, forbidden from making her swap meet "sista" either truthful or cartoonish. She is like a romantic lead with a hair weave as her sole distinguishing cultural comment. Only Ryan O'Neal, he of old school star power, can radiate any energy within the limited confines of his underwritten role. And don't even ask about poor Bo Derek or Blair Underwood.
Most of the problem here, though, is with the concept. So content on creating a story to complement its shallow characters that it constantly pushes the plot point panic button, Malibu's Most Wanted is overloaded with convolutions and narrative nosedives. If the movie had just focused on B-Rad and his goal of being the best white rapper ever, it seems like there would be a lot of humor and send-up material available (and with 8 Mile a recent hit, a spoof-friendly foundation). But no, we have to have the entire Governor's race thread. Then the false kidnapping. Then the rival gang nonsense, followed quickly by the political backstabbing and posturing. And let's not forget the sappy sequences of false sentiments and saccharine solace. By the end, Brad and Kennedy are ancillary aspects to their own movie. We are so wrapped up in double-crosses, mixed alliances, and faux fantasy sequences (an appearance by Ricky Rat, voiced by the multi-talented Snoop Dogg, is about the last time we laugh out loud in this film) that we forget we are supposed to be doubled over in hysterics over Brad's white bread antics. Even throwing his equally clueless (but culturally diverse and very PC) Malibu posse into the mix at the very end isn't enough of a reminder to save the movie. By then, it's become about the very things that were supposed to function as catalysts to Brad's story, not its centerpiece. Malibu's Most Wanted would have benefited from a single vision (four writers can't achieve said) or a narrow focus. Placing a fish out of water back into the tank from whence he came can never be that funny or clever. And it's not here.
So what are we left with? What does Malibu's Most Wanted really want
to say? Honestly, when one delves below the surface, a very distressing design
starts to bleed through. It's apparent that Kennedy respects and enjoys
rap/hip-hop histrionics and history. But when Brad stops being the butt of the
jokes, it's time to figure out just what else will be the target. What or who is
being made fun of here? Sadly, it seems to be the very ethnic class and culture
Kennedy is trying to champion. There is no other explanation for scenes where
the joke seems to be on the gang members and their code of conduct. How else
could you explain the depiction of black women as trifling hoochies? It's not so
much that the filmmakers come out and say, "Rap and hip-hop people sure is
crazy, ain't they," but to make Diggs and Anderson's characters so
over-the-top and stereotypical is a joke that doubles back and reflects on the
community as well. The message here is clear -- in order for B-Rad to prove he
is black, he must
(1) rob convenience stores,
(2) join a gang,
(3) use automatic weapons, and
(4) sip 40s and bang on the shorties.
When critics complain that all criminals in films are minorities, or when they argue that the African American characters seem the most ancillary to a blockbuster's plot designs, they speak from a factual point of reference. In order to play on clichés, Malibu's Most Wanted has to recognize they exist in the first place. And then to go about exaggerating them for the sake of a stupid, silly movie is just unfair. Jamie Kennedy and his crew aren't about building bridges of understanding. Malibu's Most Wanted is about dumb white kids dumping all over minority traditions.
Warner Brothers tries to meet this movie halfway, failing to give it an all-out Special Edition packaging, but offering enough extras to keep the fanatics happy. Visually, the movie looks great. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is colorful and crisp, with no artifacting or defects. Aurally, the Dolby Digital 5.1 really thumps up the volume. The minute the music comes on, it's like one of those tricked out SUVs that cruise through the neighborhood like a portable earthquake at 2:00 a.m. We do get some immersion, but for the most part, the sonic side of the disc is all about the beats. For those hard of hearing or in need of the subtitles, however, Warners makes a very odd choice. They present the dialogue in a near literal translation, but then fail to provide the lyrics to the raps, joke or serious. Seems Kennedy saved up a lot of good goof material for his lame ass street poetry, but with the music pumping and ambient noise on high, it's hard to decipher what he is saying. The subtitles should and would have done this. But for some reason, the deaf can't "see" what B-Rad is laying down. At least we get a trailer and a filmography that does a decent job of showcasing the film, and the talent involved.
But the most uneven extras are saved for last. Malibu's Most Wanted could best be described as a film fine-tuned by audience testing and studio feedback. Indeed, whole fantasy sequences were dropped, subplots cropped and endings changed to hopefully meager the movie down to fit the proper money-bearing demographic. The results sure speak for themselves (or is that reek for themselves), but the deleted scenes material, complete with commentary, will show you what you're missing. Some of the sequences should have been cut (Jamie's rap video is just retarded) while a couple could have been saved. But don't expect them to look all that good. WB decided to provide this bonus footage in a watermarked and date-stamped third or fourth generation videotape transfer. It literally looks like director John Whitesell let the studio borrow his VHS copy of the leftovers to make this material. In the commentary to these scenes, no one remarks on the image quality. But they all bemoan moments they wish were still in the film.
This comes across even more on the full-length audio commentary. Divided into factions (the Kennedy Faction -- Jamie and director Whitesell; the Writers Faction -- Fax Bahr and Adam Small; and the Actors Faction -- Anthony Anderson and Regina Hall), each group discusses, in separately recorded conversations, what they think are the pros and cons of the film. The Kennedy Faction marvels at how versatile and vulnerable the actor is while taking credit for most of the movie's ideas. The Writers Faction lauds over how much "realism" they included in the film and directly contradict those items that the Kennedy crew wants recognition for. The Actors Faction simply points out good and anecdotal aspects of the production. Since neither knows what the others are talking about, this occasionally clashing commentary shows that either this was a movie by committee and everyone wants credit for what's on the screen, or that these are just ambitious people who feel a need to brag a little. While making some valid points (this is definitely not a spoof of Eminem) and dishing a little dirt (the list of rappers and producers who wanted no part of this production is priceless), this narrative tries to glorify and defend choices made that end up backfiring badly on-screen. One wonders if the individuals were commenting on the movie itself, or what their idea of the movie was.
Perhaps Malibu's Most Wanted speaks to the very kids it mocks. Maybe they see themselves on the screen, embodied by this geeky gangsta with bad posture and lame game and think "there but for the grace of Dre go I." It's possible that they see beyond the color issues and the racial stereotyping and tap into a truth they feel the movie shares with their predicament. After all, they are just going with what society says is cool. If Madison Avenue and its bastard offspring MTV have deemed a division of the musical menagerie marketable, what's to stop them from capitalizing on it? They did it with hair metal. They did it with grunge. It's rap's turn now. So what if kids are jumping on the bad wagon and wearing their pants around their crotches? At least they feel connected to something.
Jamie Kennedy is indeed a gifted performer. His TV show outpunks Ashton's star bashing since Jamie is so personally involved in the pranks he pulls. But the biggest trick this little devil may have managed to execute is to get people to believe he is genuine about Malibu's Most Wanted. Frankly, it feels like a pandering piece of product placement. But maybe that's how the offspring of today like their cultural identity: predetermined, pre-chewed, and predigested.
When white America ransacked rock and roll all those years ago, robbing Little Richard to pay Peter, Paul and Mary, there was a momentary lapse in African American influence. But then the artists regrouped and laid down the fantastic funk.
When gay Euro-peons transformed this heartfelt soul into callous disco, the brothers reorganized again and regained their street beat footing. Soon, there was no hope for an Anglo-Saxon overthrow. Try as they might, a la the Beastie Boys and Marky Mark, the Caucasians just couldn't knock LL Cool J or Master P out. So in a clear case of "if you can't fight, unite," suburban teens took the hip-hop style and married it with Beck's bohemia, Fred Durst's dick and doodie jokes, and even Alanis Morrisette's PMS temper tantrums. And still the gangsta flourished. He bought bigger cribs, brighter bling, and badder rides.
And ever since then, the crazy crackers left behind have been trying to play catch-up. Today, it's no longer a sick joke to imagine Jewel as a dance diva or Britney as a rapping tract ho. Everything in pop culture has been urbanized -- and as a reciprocal result, sanitized -- so that WASP Mommy and Daddy will find the purchase of Sean John sweats or K-Swiss sneakers acceptable. The man is out to steal the spotlight back. And Jamie Kennedy is helping. Malibu's Most Wanted is making it funny to laugh at aspects of black culture, just as long as they are channeled through a clueless white wannabe. Not since Pat Boone good-gollied Miss Molly right into his bank account has one bland man been so dishonest with his talent. Kennedy and crew may think this film is off the hook. But it's really more like a lyrical lynching.
Malibu's Most Wanted is found guilty of that most heinous of humor crimes -- ridiculing those you mistakenly believe you are championing. For its borderline racist portrayal of black culture and hip-hop, the film and its makers are sentenced to 20 years in the PC Penal Colony until such time as they are willing to recognize the errors of their non-tolerant ways. Court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Additional Scenes Including the Alternative Ending, with Commentary on the Additional Scenes by Jamie Kennedy, Anthony Anderson, Regina Hall, John Whitesell, Adam Small, and Fax Bahr
* Full Length Feature Commentary by Jamie Kennedy, Anthony Anderson, Regina Hall, John Whitesell, Adam Small, and Fax Bahr
* Official Site