What's the Worst That Could Happen?

2001, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Sam Weisman. Starring Larry Miller, Bernie Mac, Glenne Headly, Nora Dunn, William Fichtner, John Leguizamo, Carmen Ejogo, Martin Lawrence, Danny Devito.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., June 1, 2001

Its title is live bait for critics. One of the co-stars is an executive producer. The director is a television veteran and the perpetrator of D2: The Mighty Ducks. MGM has scarcely lifted a finger to promote this movie outside of the urban niche, expending most of its marketing efforts on the prominently featured hip-hop soundtrack. So here's a shocker: This frothy little crime comedy isn't half bad, bubbling with caper-farce energy supplied by a game ensemble cast and a source novel by prolific pulp writer Donald E. Westlake. Sure, you'll sit through the requisite lowbrow gags; a trio of audibly flatulent toy poodles makes an unfortunate appearance, a stuffy country-clubber gets nailed in the 'nads by a tennis ball, and there's probably one swishy, stereotypically gay character too many. (Miller should yield the right of way to Fichtner, still more memorable as the Walkenesque pervert cop from 1999's Go than from any of his block-jawed testosterone roles.) But the cast is plainly having fun, and that makes all the difference here. Lawrence, a Beantown career thief (or “connoisseur of all things portable”) attempts to raid the Marblehead, Massachusetts, mansion of reptilian broadcasting tycoon DeVito. With the interloper caught in the act and cuffed by the fuzz, DeVito maliciously pinches Lawrence's tacky (but lucky) signet ring, a gift from anthropologist-cum-waitress galpal Ejogo (who deserves better than her thinly conceived, perky girlfriend role). But Lawrence gives the cops the slip and sets out for revenge with his ragtag gang of burglar buddies, under the tutelage of crime boss Bernie Mac (whose appearance is trumpeted with selections from the Black Caesar soundtrack). The rivalry between the principals is the crux of the plot, but DeVito and Lawrence share the screen generously, all but upstaged by a bumper crop of second bananas -- Headley's bonbon-scarfing, Tarot-dealing personal assistant; quarrelsome husband-and-wife magicians Lenny Clarke and Siobhan Fallon (with squawking Braintree accents); and a curiously restrained John Leguizamo (who's allowed to go over the top once and only once, as a monocled Eurotrash art auctioneer). But the aforementioned Fichtner is the movie's main course of ham. Inexplicably, he's channeling any number of effete, wan-faced personages (Truman Capote? Andy Warhol?) as a fey, bewigged police detective with an Ice Capades fetish, a press-on beauty mark, and waterproof Great Lash. To his credit, Weisman keeps a handle on these larger-than-life, zany characters and keeps the plot moving along briskly enough; this silly summer trifle is nothing like some of the bloated, buddy-movie star vehicles you'll find elsewhere on Lawrence's résumé. (Memo to Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay: I haven't forgotten about Bad Boys.) But Lawrence isn't being challenged to cast off his stand-up roots; he breaks into a goofy dance in about every third scene.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Sam Weisman, Larry Miller, Bernie Mac, Glenne Headly, Nora Dunn, William Fichtner, John Leguizamo, Carmen Ejogo, Martin Lawrence, Danny Devito

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