It’s a shame that the big-bucks marketing guys for What’s the Worst That Could Happen? didn’t decide on a different title. Though based on the wonderful Donald E. Westlake novel of the same name, a movie with such an unwieldy title is the kiss of death at the box office. A real pity because, except for a few mishaps, The Worst is a thoroughly entertaining crime caper: laugh-out loud funny; sharply directed by Sam Weisman (George of the Jungle); vibrantly shot on location in Boston; full of marvelously rich characterizations; and boasting a complex, turn-the-screws-on-the-bad-guys plot. Even the music is great. Westlake’s endearing hero, John Archibald Dortmunder, is a thief whose escapades never quite come off as planned. (Robert Redford first played Dortmunder in Hot Rock, the classic 1970s crime caper.) Comic Martin Lawrence (Blue Streak) updates the character with a name change (to Kevin Caffrey) and street-wise dynamics. Kevin combs the snooty art auctions looking for objects to steal and people to steal them from. He spies gorgeous Amber (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Boycott) and it’s instant love. He’s adorable and persistent, so she falls in love with him, too, and gives him her late father’s good-luck ring. Kevin burglarizes a mansion owned by sleazy big-time white-collar crook Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito, Drowning Mona). But true to Westlake-hero form, Kevin gets caught red-handed by the crook, who in turn manages to steal Kevin’s precious finger ornament. The rest of the movie follows Kevin as he tries to get the ring back and Max attempts to keep it. The wonderful script adaptation by Matthew Chapman (Heart of Midnight ) careens along from one heist and counter-heist to another, populated by a motley cast of goofballs on both sides of the law. Special kudos go to William Fichtner (Drowning Mona). His sickeningly sweet, bisexual fashion plate, Det. Alex Tardio, will cause conniption fits in the Boston Police Department. His character is so funny, however, that the marketing folks who missed the mark on the film’s title might be able to make up their loss by going immediately into pre-production on a movie with Det. Tardio as the star. Two things keep Worst from a stand-up-in-your-seat-and-cheer rating. First is the one-dimensional character of Amber, who never raises one iota of ethical concern or even surprise over the revelation of her new lover’s true occupation. Worse than her character lapse is the movie’s ending: For some unknown reason, after almost 120 minutes of full-speed comic action, Worst goes limp in the final moments. Thankfully, the ending is short, so you can forget it and leave the theater remembering the fun you had in the previous 99-percent of the movie.
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