When the trailer for this movie first appeared, my comrade-in-reviewing, Marcianne Miller, was quick to send me an e-mail reading, “Don’t you even think of assigning me Little Man.” This is known as a pre-emptive strike — and a wise move it was.
No, Little Man isn’t the worst movie of the summer. That’s too generous. It may in fact be the worst movie ever made. I am hesitant to afford it that title simply because it’s the kind of accolade that glorifies this be-merded atrocity. I have no desire to help hoist the emetic horror of Little Man into the realm of “cult classic” a la Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Pootie Tang (2001). All the same, I honestly cannot think of anything worse that was made in between the time the Lumiere Brothers photographed a train pulling into a station in 1895 and today. If moviemaking was a limbo contest, the Wayans Brothers would be the hands-down winners. No one has ever gone lower.
Since nothing else is very interesting about this creation, let’s look at its history just a little. Way back in 1917, fantasy writer Tod Robbins wrote a serialized novel called The Terrible Three, which was then issued in book form under its more famous title, The Unholy Three. It told the story of a trio of sideshow performers — a ventriloquist, a strong man and a midget — who adopted disguises in order to commit crimes. Owing to his stature, the midget masqueraded as a baby — a decidedly light-fingered one.
Tod Browning filmed the tale as a silent in 1925, as a vehicle for Lon Chaney playing the ventriloquist, while German circus performer Harry Earles played the larcenous midget. When the film was remade by Jack Conway in 1930 as a talkie, Chaney and Earles reprised their roles. There the concept died until it was revamped as a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Baby Buggy Bunny, in 1954, where a diminutive gangster, Baby-Faced Finster, poses as a baby in order to retrieve stolen loot that has ended up in Bugs’ rabbit hole. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the exact storyline (minus the rabbit hole) appropriated by the Wayans — and stretched from seven minutes to 98 minutes.
I suppose the reason no one thought of this genius-level concept before was that special effects had not yet attained the requisite level to pull it off. (And you thought CGI was ruining the art of film.) Truth to tell, the requisite level of technical proficiency is still a long way off. Yes, it’s skin-crawling, creepy looking to the degree that it’s little wonder that someone mistakes the ersatz infant for Chucky of Child’s Play fame. But the image of Marlon Wayans’ head “grafted” onto the bodies of two bona fide midgets (Linden Porco and Gabriel Pimental) is somewhat less persuasive than the Photoshopped creations featured on those Web sites that promise nude photos of Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Stanley Tucci, etc.
There are other notable problems with the concept. For example, it took Bugs about four minutes of cartoon to penetrate the gangster’s disguise. It takes a variety of presumably sentient beings approximately 90 minutes to piece together the truth here — despite the fact that the baby in question, Calvin, has a full-set of adult teeth, beard stubble, evidence of adulthood in more personal body regions, wields a mean frying pan and has the libido of an oversexed goat. As concerns this last, not only does Calvin try to slip the tongue to any hapless female who kisses him, but when surrogate mom, Vanessa (Kerry Washington, Ray), blows on his stomach, he tries to shove her head south of the equator. More, he apparently fills in for makeshift dad Darryl (Shawn Wayans) in the bedroom department at one point — unbeknownst to either Vanessa or Darryl. These folks redefine the word “credulous” — and the level of invention doesn’t stop here. There’s also a variety of excursions into potty humor, the amusement value of breast-feeding and a positively pathological fixation on guys being kicked or otherwise assaulted in the crotch.
Even if any of this were funny, the film would still have the central problem that the Wayans have attempted to craft a “realistic” narrative while adhering to the same “comic” credo they used on deliberately unrealistic movies like I’m Gonna Get You Sucka and Scary Movie. This mix is about as appealing as the prospect of curried ice cream.
When the movie isn’t plumbing the depths of humor, it tries to be a warm and fuzzy ode to the joys of father-and-son bonding, as evidenced by the use of Harry Nilsson’s theme from the TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father in a sequence where Calvin manages to whack Darryl in the testicular territory in various creative manners. (I must’ve missed the episode where Brandon Cruz did this to Bill Bixby.) I briefly considered cutting the Wayans some slack for using a song from a 34-year-old TV show in a film aimed at 15-year-olds. Then I realized they probably just don’t understand their demographic target any more than they grasp the basic concepts of filmmaking.
In any case, this all leads — somehow — to a warm-hearted camaraderie between the two by the end of the film. Being cuckolded by Calvin, suffering multiple blows to what are coyly referred to by Owen Wilson as his “little Duprees” in this week’s other stinker, being bashed with a frying pan, … all this melts away in what has to be the most preposterous shift in tone ever committed to film.
If all this weren’t bad enough, the movie’s underlying theme is finally that Vanessa should give up her silly ideas of a career so she can stay home and produce babies for Darryl. Thank God, she sees the error of her ways by the end of the film! It’s just too bad that everyone involved didn’t just stay home rather than make this crapfest. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor throughout, language and brief drug references.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke