Malibu's Most Wanted
review by Gregory Avery, 25 April 2003

By the end of Malibu's Most Wanted, the comedian Jamie Kennedy has just about managed to drive you up the wall with his whiny, one-note performance as B-Rad, who has come down with what one character calls the worst case of "gangstaphreni'" (pronounced with the "a" dropped off the end) ever seen. B-Rad, who is otherwise as white as Wonder bread, has gone to such lengths to look, act, and talk like a gangsta that his father arranges for a mock-kidnapping that will drop him straight into South Central L.A. in an effort to have him "scared white" once and for all.

A satire on privileged white kids who want to be like black kids from Compton is long overdue, but this comedy turns out to be pretty wan -- no sooner do the jokes step through the doorway onto the screen than they fall over and play dead. Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson are not bad as a pair of actors who are hired by B-Rad's father (Ryan O'Neal, hanging in there) to stage the fake kidnapping, and who keep worrying over whether they're getting all the details right ("Am I 'indicating'?") so that they're convincing enough as kidnappers with a bad attitude. But the paucity of roles for black actors, and the ones they often find themselves stuck in, was better satirized by Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle, back in 1987, and in less screen time. Jamie Kennedy's way of acting and speaking---"Why yor doin' dis tu a broh-der?", and "Ah'm jus' a rappah, streit-up!"---in fact recall the regrettable ways in which African-American performers were obliged to play stereotyped behavior in Hollywood films of the 1930s and '40s. And, in its way, this movie is reinforcing a whole new set of stereotypes for African-Americans: guys who shoot off guns when they're not chugging on malt liquor, and women who dress, primp, and strut in ways that shamelessly show off their booty, and who are ready to get-down with the first guy who turns them on.

If not for this last bit, the movie would otherwise be harmless. About the cleverest it gets is when it has Snoop Dogg -- who has gone from rap musician to spokesman for "Girls Gone Wild" videos and object of Bill O'Reilly's wrath -- providing the voice for a talking rat in one scene: after telling B-Rad that he's not Stuart Little, he perks his spirits up by encouraging him to be who he's supposed to be (and not be a pretender). The movie is essentially about being allowed to be who you are, but we never see beyond the facade of Kennedy's character, which was developed originally for his WB comedy program. It still hasn't moved beyond the sketch phase -- the character's more of an idea than a character. (B-Rad's mom is played in the movie by Bo Derek, and this is the first time since I saw The Jazz Singer in 1980 -- when Laurence Olivier played Neil Diamond's father -- in which I wondered how two people who looked like Ryan O'Neal and Bo Derek could've produced someone who looked like Jamie Kennedy.) The movie doesn't give us any idea of what's "genuine" about B-Rad or why he's adopted this pose. He's emptier -- and, after a while, shriller -- than the frozen "mod" poseurs of the '60s (who, at least, arguably dressed better), so when the movie gets all well-intentioned at the end, it seems like the biggest put-on of all. There's no "there", there, or any "why" or "how", for that matter. The talking rat was right.

Directed by:
John Whitesell

Starring:
Jamie Kennedy
Taye Diggs
Anthony Anderson
Regina Hall
Blair Underwood
Damien Dante Wayans
Bo Derek
Ryan O'Neal

Written by:
Fax Bahr
Adam Small
Jamie Kennedy
Nick Swardson

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

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