It's rude, crude, and patently offensive; you'd think Judge Bill Gibron would actually enjoy this lowbrow effort from the Wayans Brothers. You'd be wrong.
A loaded diaper full of bumbling baby crap!
Fresh out of the penitentiary, Calvin (Marlon Wayans, White Chicks) hooks up with his old pal Percy (Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock) and heads to a jewelry store to steal a diamond. When the heist goes haywire, Calvin hides the loot in the purse of an unsuspecting drug store customer. Once the heat is off, both men are anxious to get the rock back. Percy is particularly eager, since he's promised the precious gem to mob boss Walken (Chazz Palminteri, Bullets Over Broadway). Realizing that the couple now in possession of the jewel is childless, Calvin dresses up like an orphaned baby, hoping to gain their sympathy—and access to the house. At first, the plan plays out perfectly. Darryl (Shawn Wayans, Scary Movie) and Vanessa (Kerry Washington, Fantastic Four) take the pretend tyke in and treat him like the slightly freakish foundling he appears to be. However, Vanessa's dad (John Witherspoon, The Boondocks) smells a rat and, soon, Walken is demanding the diamond. Calvin finds himself in quite a fix. If he gives away his identity, he'll lose the stone forever, but if he continues to play along with this diaper and high-chair charade, his status as a Little Man may be in jeopardy.
Like your baby brother endlessly laughing at the same stupid fart joke over and over again, Little Man is a nauseating one-note experience that can hardly get a single stupefying thing right. Somewhere on the Great Cosmic Scorecard, the Wayans brothers (Shawn and Marlon as stars/screenwriters, Keenen Ivory as co-writer/director) are racking up substantial demerits. After the cinematic proof of the law of diminishing returns known as the Scary Movie films and the added atrociousness of the worthless White Chicks, these guys could do decades of careful Karmic community service and still barely break even. If the celluloid gods have any say in their chastisement, licking out the Aegean stables with their tongues won't be enough of a Herculean task. Let's face it; these guys gotta pay. In the grand scheme of bewildering bass-ackward movie ideas, having an actual little person festooned with an actor's CGI-secured head is bad enough. Then, to have him playing a baby in order to fool a family into thinking he's a child, just so he can complete a mafia-mandated jewelry heist, is so stupid that only anthropomorphic cartoon characters—or a grade-school group of underprivileged cinematic stereotypes—would stoop so low as to stage it. Yet leave it to the Wayans to try their own sloppy hand at mimicking these frequently misguided entries from the past. It's enough to send Bugs Bunny and Buckwheat into suicidal fits.
Easily the worst major studio film of 2006, Little Man loses all credibility early, then keeps whizzing away the remainder of its integrity over its thankfully brief running time. Relying on mugging, scatology, and the decidedly creepy sexualization of children for laughs, what probably sounded like a clever idea over a couple of familial bong hits is positively horrendous in its inept execution here. Where once the family Wayans could claim some reliability, being responsible for the frequently funny '80s skit comedy series In Living Color, they've now gone and spent their last principled penny. There is nothing remotely defendable about this debacle of a so-called comedy. This film is so unfunny, so bereft of even the closest possible reasons to laugh that scholars could study it as a replacement for Ritalin. Once hyperactive kids see this static, dull diversion, they'll be lapsing into comas faster than an anorexic supermodel. When you can't even get a shot to the nuts right, when multiple objects to the groin return nothing but blank, befuddled stares, you know you're humor is severely handicapped. Yet instead of realizing its mistakes, taking its bland balls jokes and simply going home, Little Man hangs in for the long haul. The result is an insult to anyone with eyes, ears, and any kind of entertainment aesthetic.
All glib putdowns aside, Little Man fails for many obvious moviemaking reasons, the first and foremost being the lack of recognizable, sympathetic, or relatable characters capable. Instead of establishing Calvin as a love-lacking little person who has channeled his pain into a life of crime, the Wayans make him a mere walking punchline and wait for the situational setups to arrive. We don't ever feel empathy for this undersized stooge. Instead, we wish someone would play "kick the baby" with his whiny, wiseguy ass. Similarly, Darryl and Vanessa are a clichéd couple, the mismatched pair of family man and career girl that should be a cause for divorce, not interpersonal celebration. Any life lessons learned by this passionless pair are mandated by the material—and that postmodern panacea known as biological reproduction—to arrive with all the subtlety of a Sears Tower-sized sledgehammer. While other elements of parenting are argued over via passive/aggressive ancillary characters, we learn more about the fine art of breastfeeding than we do about the issues of bringing up baby. While a screwball comedy isn't really supposed to deal with such deep, direct issues, the entire premise practically warrants this approach. After all, we are dealing with an adult playing a child for the purpose of fooling other grown-ups.
But beyond the obvious lack of profundity, Little Man also lacks a single scintilla of intelligence. If we are to believe the reactions from everyone in the cast, Calvin is a certifiable doofus, and his con-job marks are borderline brain dead. Darryl and Vanessa see our mini-man's mature genitalia and consider it a supposedly normal growth spurt. Right, and all toddlers got pubes, too. Similarly, a tattoo is dismissed as a symbol of ghetto cred and Calvin's inconsistent level of cognizance—one moment he's a drooling dullard, the next he's spouting expositional endearments—should clue in anyone that something is rotten in the story's state of denial. Yet Little Man just keeps on coming, like an egg-breathed suitor trying to chat up a drunken debutante. Eventually, as the narrative requires the introduction of a heavy (in this case, the should-have-known-better bearer of an Oscar nomination, Chaz Palminteri) and the plot threads need re-knitting, all the Wayans clan can do is stand around slackjawed and pile on the implausibilities. By the time we get to the wounded weeper of an ending, a finale that's fishing for emotion that the movie hasn't earned, or even attempted, we are ready to commit a 120th trimester abortion.
Perhaps the saddest fact about Little Man is that, somewhere, deep down inside our better judgment, we feel the Wayans brothers are capable of better. While this DVD divulges details that more or less disprove this instinct (see the self-congratulatory commentary for pure unbridled self-delusion), there is still a small part of us that hopes these supposedly talented men accept the error of their ways and stop demeaning their race for the sake of a snicker. Besides, the rule of thumb when it comes to something as personal as comedy is to avoid pandering to your own personal penchant for funny and remember that the rest of the world may not share your individual comic view. Wit works best from the outside in, where recognizable ideas and individuals connect with an audience's preconceived expectations. Then and only then can the twists necessary to render the laughs be applied and amplified. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule; Mystery Science Theater 3000, Seinfeld, Eddie Izzard and others all function within their insular world of self-determined cleverness, but if you want to touch a more universal nerve, play to the public first and to your own inner strengths second. Sadly, Little Man has no clue how to do either. It simply stumbles along on the thinning goodwill of the brothers' previous offerings, eventually drowning in its own dumbness along the way.
It should be no surprise then that this recently released big-screen hit ($100 million worldwide; how depressing) looks pretty good on the digital domain. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean and crisp, with only occasional lapses into post-production print problems. Obviously, the amount of computing power needed to make Marlon look like Billy Barty destroys the clarity in certain scenes, but overall, the transfer is more than acceptable. On the sound side, the pointless multi-channel presentation—Dolby Digtial 5.1 to be exact—does absolutely nothing for the film itself. The dialogue is easily discernible, but very little directional or spatial ambience if offered. In fact, it appears that the only reason for the several-speaker sonic experience is to better hear the endless rap and hip hop on the soundtrack. While the aural presentation does pimp out the songs' subwoofer tendencies, the overall auditory package is pedestrian at best.
As for the aforementioned bonus features, it is safe to say that the cast and crew of Little Man are in love with themselves. While it might just be one big fat EPK ruse, the commentary, visual effects featurette, documentary on the making-of the movie, and exposé on Linden Porco (the real-life little person whose body was used as Marlon's stature stand-in) all have a basic backslapping quality that is quite irritating. When they discuss the movie, the Wayans tow an unpleasant party line which argues that EVERYTHING in the film is funny—from the tacky toilet humor to the moments of pedophilia-inspired pratfalling. These guys have such faith in their approach to comedy that it's like listening to joke-making members of Jonestown right before their final Kool-Aid break. Granted, if you love this film (and there are probably a couple of you out there, admit it), you'll drink deep from this heady draught of self-serving extras. Everyone else will need a metric ton of salt to supplement all perplexing praise being extolled here. Not even the deleted and/or extended scenes render this rank amateurism amusing.
Truth be told, you may laugh at some of co-star John Witherspoon's silly adlibs, and there are moments when Marlon's endless facial contortions result in a reluctant smile, but overall, Little Man signals yet another symptom in the ongoing death of big-screen comedy. At one time, Hollywood thrived on a good, gratuitous laugh riot. Now all we're left with are the delirium dregs—and the Wayans brothers' wounded desire to drag them up, over and over again. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by The Wayans Brothers
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