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Who's the Mannull

Directed by Ted Demme. Starring Doctor Dre, Ed Lover, Colin Quinn, Jim Moody.

REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., April 30, 1993

The opening barber shop scene in this film promises a devilish trip through the world of Harlem street and shop life. As the camera wanders around the barber shop we are introduced to a variety of customers, barbers and the regular crowds hanging out -- the older ones playing checkers, the younger ones swapping lies. Graciously, Ed Lover and Dr. Dre (rappers, one tall, the other very fat, who achieved fame as hosts of Yo! MTV Raps) are almost minor players amongst the sea of characters inhabiting the shop. When Lover and Dre emerge as the film's protagonists, its tone changes, evolving from a street-corner, broad comedy to something more in the direction of Abbott and Costello and the Bowery Boys. Forced to take a police entrance exam by the barber shop's owner, a dedicated activist committed to saving both his neighborhood and the people in it, they both accidently pass the test. Accepted as rookies, Dre and Love may be the worst cops ever. Once out in their uniforms, the neighborhood can't believe what they see. As a team, Dre and Lover are very fast and funny, the rhythm of the line, or the way they lowball lines at each other, slow and inside, provides much of the humor. Neither really takes the straight man role but each jiving off the other. For this film though, two roads diverged on Harlem streets and it, unfortunately, takes both of them. It's a Monogram style Bowery Boys romp (and that is meant as a sincerest compliment), a fast and loose comedy in which the characters play by their own rules, certainly not the law, and there is no real world. But, in a decision that displays good politics, if intemperate filmmaking, the movie really seems to want to hew to the high road. A broad slapstick comedy, it is determined to remind us of the serious social issues facing the black community. Unfortunately, Demme is not a skilled enough director to weave these together effortlessly. A too-real murder mystery drags down the last half of the film, creating a context that constrains the comedy rather than letting it flow. In the face of death, the slapstick seems misplaced. Who's the Man? never runs out of imagination but after the first part it runs out of inspiration. Numerous rap and MTV stars give sharp guest turns. The cutting is more than MTV slick, it carries the wacky quality of the Bowery Boys, where logic and narrative are not necessarily related. Again and again, the film surprises with its savvy capturing a sense of street and style. It's just that after the startlingly energetic opening, the rest of the film doesn't really live up to that promise.
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