What's the Worst that Could Happen?
review by Gregory Avery, 1 June 2001

In this week's entry for worst movie comedy of the year, Martin Lawrence plays a professional thief who is surprised, while in the act of committing a burglary, by a corporate tycoon (Danny DeVito), who, at gunpoint, demands that the thief hand over a ring he is wearing. The tycoon is going through bankruptcy proceedings, and justifies his act by saying that the ring will bring him luck. The ring was a gift to the thief by his new girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo), and in his attempts to get it back, he goes to further and further lengths to take down the tycoon who gloatingly "robbed the robber".

What's the Worst That Could Happen? is based on a Donald E. Westlake novel (Westlake wrote the novel and screenplay adaptation for The Grifters), and, aside from the terrific central idea involving the ring, has all the makings of a comedy-thriller about one-upmanship. None of which materializes. The movie starts out in London, then, without telling the audience, shifts to Boston, then on to Washington, D.C. All the settings and locations look the same. (The film was actually made entirely in the Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts area, which at least accounts for the absence of shots where the characters walk or drive by the Capitol Building or the Washington Monument.) The characters of the thief and the tycoon are never really defined, so there's no feeling of a battle-of-wits being waged, connivance-wise or otherwise, and the plot moves from one situation to another without much rhyme or reason. (The tycoon, for instance, never notices the absence of a Fabergé egg, one of the most fabulously rare collectibles, and status symbols, in the world. And a second residence of his, loaded with paintings and artwork, is burglarized with all the simplicity of opening a Zip-Loc bag.) At one point, Martin Lawrence tosses the precious ring away, but in the very next shot you can clearly see that it is still on his hand.

Lawrence doesn't so much give a performance, here, as do a series of comedy riffs which are strung together (some Stevie Wonder here, a little Richard Pryor there). But he looks a lot better than Danny DeVito, who plays the same kind of grubby little conniver that he used to play twenty years ago but which, as a performer, he has way since progressed beyond doing. DeVito does some luvy-duvy-oochy-smoochie-snuggy-buggy stuff with a couple of the female characters during the early part of the movie (which may explain why Glenne Headly, who plays the tycoon's psychic advisor, doesn't make eye contact with him during most of their scenes), after which he screams his way through the rest of the picture and never lets up.

Some of the humor is pretty deplorable, too: Lawrence and John Leguizamo pretend to be Arab sheiks in one scene, and there's a long, long bit where DeVito bellows a blue streak of dialogue which is simultaneously translated by a sign language interpreter, verbatim. Most surprising is the appearance of William Fichner as a police inspector who speaks breathily and moves about in the long, swooning manner of a grandiose drag queen. It's a bit of a shock at first, because it's as if the film is trying to bring back the kind of gay stereotype that went out with the damp, loathsome homophobic scenes in the 1968 film The Detective, but the joke, here, is that none of the other characters, including the inspector's fellow police officers, act like they notice or care. (In the production notes, Fichner says that he deliberately took the role just so that he could turn it on its head, and you can see how he takes the character with all of its clichés intact and tries to play it in a non-clichéd way, an almost Herculean effort.)

If you've gotten this far, you've probably already decided whether you're going to see the movie or not, but I must make one final mention regarding poor (and I mean that sincerely) Sascha Knopf, who plays the little cutie whom DeVito's tycoon keeps on the side. (The tycoon has a wife, played by Nora Dunn, and I must also admit that it's nice to see Dunn, a talented comedienne who was unceremoniously dumped from the cast of "Saturday Night Live" some years ago, in a substantial film role.) In one scene, Knopf has to wear a short, knit halter top which, shall we say, presents the female form in a way which is neither flattering or attractive to look at. She then has to bend over while facing the camera, repeatedly. It is absolutely stupefying, and I hope the filmmakers are satisfied with themselves.

Directed by:
Sam Weisman

Martin Lawrence
Danny DeVito
Carmen Ejogo
John Leguizamo
Bernie Mac
Glenne Headly
Nora Dunn
Larry Miller
William Fichner

Written by:
Matthew Chapman

PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.








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