Category Archives: Archived Movies

MALIBU’S MOST WANTED

“There’s stuff that goes down there people should never see,” B-Rad (Jamie Kennedy), the white Jewish kid who’s determined to be a rapper, says of his upper-crust California home town at the beginning of this farce based on a sketch from Kennedy’s TV series. When one hears the line, he may well suspect that it will provide a perfect tag for the picture as a whole (just as you assume that an adamant rejection of the character’s admonition “Don’t be hatin'” will be the proper reaction to the flick), but happily that’s not entirely the case. “Malibu’s Most Wanted” is certainly a one-joke movie, but it’s not a bad joke; and though it never realizes its potential, with the level of inspiration paling ever further going down the home stretch, the picture winds up winded but still gasping for breath as it crosses the finish line. The best recent comparison is probably to “Undercover Brother,” which cleverly skewered both sides of the racial divide with surprising good humor. This effort isn’t nearly as smart or consistent, but it too is a comedy about the hood which will play well in multiplexes in the white suburbs. Whether that’s a good thing is a matter of debate, of course (and whether it will appeal to African-American audiences at all is doubtful). But its essentially good-natured foolishness isn’t all that hard to stomach, even if it’s essentially of sitcom caliber, with a feel-good denouement that salutes family, interracial amity, friendship and being true to yourself in a fashion almost calculated to make you wince. At least it’s not unremittingly gross or crude, the way most comedies aimed at adolescents are nowadays.

The linchpin of the plot is that B-Rad’s distant but well-meaning father Bill Gluckman (Ryan O’Neal) is running for governor, and the boy’s embarrassing behavior threatens his campaign. To solve the problem, Bill’s Machiavellian campaign manager (Blair Underwood) concocts a scheme to force B-Rad to abandon his hip-hop persona and revert to nice-kid Brad. He hires two actors (Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson) to pretend to be gangstas, car-jack the fellow and give him such a frightening taste of the real hood that he’ll literally be scared back into comfortable “whiteness.” Needless to say, the plot backfires, but in doing so it actually works to Bill’s political benefit. And in the process B-Rad finds romance with Shondra (Regina Hall), a strong-willed girl with dreams of her own.

Curiously enough, Kennedy’s character is the least interesting element in the movie. B-Rad is a clownish figure whose one-note antics are never as ingratiating as the makers intend. When he takes the stage for a rap contest that’s supposed to send up the ones Eminem did in “8 Mile,” for example, the bit falls flat due to the limp writing. (Indeed, the only funny gag comes when B- Rad shows that, when it comes to being vocal while watching a movie, he’s totally transformed.) In short, the idea of satirizing rich white kids who pose as gangstas is a potentially rich comic vein that Kennedy barely scratches. What makes the picture work to a modest degree is the counterpart it offers to B-Rad in African-Americans who deplore the gangsta culture and aim to prosper in white society. Underwood’s manipulative Tom Gibbsons is one example (an Uncle Tom if ever one existed), but by far the funniest are Sean (Diggs) and PJ (Anderson), the would- be thespians who find themselves constantly compelled to accept parts that are the very denial of what they aspire to. When Diggs delivers, with his clipped, precise diction, a complaint about having to play a thug once again, the self-referential character of the bit adds a nice layer to the humor.

Unfortunately, nothing else in the flick is equally amusing. It’s like old home week seeing O’Neal again (and Bo Derek as his wife), and the jokey campaign commercials he appears in are lowbrow fun, but little else is done with his bland character. Hall has spirit, but she too is poorly used, and though Snoop Dog is listed in the cast, he’s only vocally present, providing the voice of a chatty rat in one of the picture’s more surrealistic moments. The slapstick members of B-Rad’s “gang” (Kal Penn, co-writer Nick Swardson and Keili Lefkovitz) don’t quite make it as a trio of stooges, either. Technically the movie is pretty cheesy, but it seems to exult in the tackiness; John Whitesell certainly moves a rung up the directorial ladder here after helming the deplorable “See Spot Run,” and he keeps things moving reasonably well; but that’s about all one can say of his contribution.

“Malibu’s Most Wanted” is no more than a benign time-waster, not consistently funny enough to recommend, but the fact that it isn’t the horror its trailers suggested is itself a relief. Don’t bother with the out-takes that accompany the final credits, though; they’re lamer than the least amusing parts of the actual movie.

BULLETPROOF MONK

If you’re of the opinion that half a decent movie is better than none, you might give “Bulletproof Monk” a try. The first hour or so of the martial-arts adventure is fairly enjoyable comic-book stuff, balancing humor and flamboyant fighting decently enough and staying–to use an appropriate image–reasonably light on its feet. Unhappily, the feature debut by Paul Hunter, yet another veteran of commercials and music videos seguing into big-screen work, then loses its way, getting grimmer and nastier as it reaches much too hard for a big fate-of-the-world finale; in the process it resorts to devices that turn out to be unintentionally funny.

On the surface the picture might seem a sort of contemporary continuation of the “Shanghai Noon” franchise, teaming an Oriental icon with a blonde Hollywood slacker dude in a buddy jokes-and-jumps combination. But the mood of this Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott effort isn’t anywhere near as farcical as that of the Jackie Chan-Owen Wilson series. Though it has, especially in the more successful first section, some droll bits of dialogue (usually in the form of gently mocking lines delivered shrewdly by the smiling Chow), the picture is more straightforwardly action-oriented. In plot terms there’s a great resemblance to Harlan Ellison’s “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was made into a superb episode of the second series of “The Twilight Zone” back in the mid-eighties. In that story, an old man who protects the final hour of the universe in a magical watch must find a new champion to replace him. Here, a Buddhist monk (Chow) is chosen in 1943 to become the latest in a long line of guardians over a magical scroll containing a text which, if recited, will give the speaker dominion over the world–for good or ill. (The office endows him with the gift of remaining ageless until he lays it down, and for some reason runs for exactly sixty years.) No sooner does The Monk With No Name (as he’s called, perhaps with a nod to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns) take up his job, however, than his monastery is attacked and its inhabitants slaughtered by a band of vicious Nazis led by the maniacal Struder (Karel Roden). The Monk escapes, wounded, and turns up looking much the same but for his apparel in an (equally unnamed) American city in 2003, pursued by platoons of bad-guys. Before long he encounters Kar (Scott), a boyish pickpocket who, we soon learn, is also adept in martial arts by reason of working in a decrepit kung-fun movie palace and learning the moves from the screen; and he comes to suspect, at first incredulously but with increasing certainty, that Kar is the chosen one who is to be his successor. First, however, the newly-minted duo must save the scroll from the grasp of the villain behind The Monk’s pursuers–none other than the ancient Struker, who’s aided in his evil quest by his equally wicked granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit), who runs a Human Rights museum as a front for the family’s nefarious activities. Our heroes are eventually aided by a sexy street thing called Bad Girl (Jaime King), who turns out to be a rich Russian named Jade with a substantial arsenal of her own.

In the initial sixty minutes, “Bulletproof Monk” gets good mileage from the gradual development of the association between the title character and Kar: Chow’s affably inscrutable manner and physical dexterity mesh nicely with Scott’s square-jawed earnestness; the chases and fights are gracefully choreographed and skillfully executed, too. But a bit more than halfway in, everything grows more effortful and strained. By the last half hour the desire to build to a big conclusion leads to a succession of miscalculations. Struker reappears as a wheelchair-bound old man who might have been made into a send-up of Dr. Strangelove but instead is played sadly straight; a hydraulically-powered torture machine is introduced, only to look ludicrously like the device that Christopher Guest, as the evil Count Rugen, employed in “The Princess Bride”; a sympathetic secondary character is needlessly knocked off; and an utterly gratuitous cat-fight is arranged for King and Smurfit (presumably for the “Charlie’s Angels” crowd). The topper comes with an absurd “change of guard” scene that has the hitherto reluctant Kar quickly kneeling to be dubbed as the new protector by The Monk. Of course, since this is the twenty-first century, he can’t ride off into the sunset alone; happily there’s a romantic interest around to become his equal partner.

It’s really a pity that the script by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris takes such a wrong turn in the final act, because for the first hour “Bulletproof Monk,” though hardly the class of the genre (especially in comparison to its Hong Kong models), is–thanks mostly to the redoubtable Chow–moderately enjoyable. Unfortunately, what starts out as a stylish bit of hokum has degenerated into a bloated, banal farrago of cliches by the end.