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What's The Worst That Could Happen?

  what's the worst that could happen?
Martin Lawrence reflects for a moment, but quickly turns to thoughts of big paychecks before the guilt sets in.

2001, MGM
All Rights Reserved

Lazy, unfunny, and borderline hateful, apparently the worst that could happen would have to be watching this movie.

"What's The Worst That Could Happen?" (IMDb listing) isn't that far removed from the "Blacksploitation" films of the 1970s. This type of race and class comedy usually starred the likes of Richard Pryor and John Saxon. The film even has a cheapy organ score to drive home the memories of better films from the bygone genre. Woefully, this new picture stars Martin Lawrence as a thief named Kevin. A brilliant cat burglar, Kevin has just fallen in love with a young waitress (Carmen Ejogo, "Metro") who gives him her father's ring as a token of their everlasting love. When Kevin robs the house of ruthless and corrupt tycoon Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito), he is caught, and Max ends up keeping Kevin's ring for himself. With his pride damaged and worried that his girlfriend will find out about the missing ring, Kevin begins a series of elaborate retaliations to get his property back and destroy Max's media empire in the process.

It was a time not too long ago when I used to get really excited for a new Martin Lawrence film. Movies like "House Party," "You So Crazy," and "Life" showcased a fierce, dazzling comedian who could wring a laugh out of thin air. With the one-two punch of "Blue Streak" and "Big Momma's House," and now "What's The Worst That Could Happen?," Lawrence just isn't funny anymore. He's become desperate for laughs, often relaying on tried and true gestures to get him out of flat material when true comic invention worked before. It has come to a point now where the bigger the paycheck he gets for a film, the lamer the movie is. "What's The Worst" doesn't ask anything more of Lawrence than to sit there and mug shamelessly for the camera. He is burned off the screen by the supporting cast (which includes John Leguizamo, Richard Schiff, Lenny Clarke, Siobhan Fallon, and Ana Gasteyer), and special attention must be paid to the hilarious "King Of Comedy" Bernie Mac, who, in a perfect world, should've been the star of this picture.

Not helping matters any is Danny DeVito. This has got to be one of his most abrasive performances ever. Director Sam Weisman seems to have been encouraging DeVito to go bigger and broader with his performance, often reducing DeVito to violently shouting rants, at close range, into the camera. As painful as it is to watch Lawrence work with nothing to get laughs, DeVito has him beat hands down when it comes time for his raging close-ups.

I'm not sure what I should've expected coming from the filmmaker who brought the world such superior entertainment as the weak "D2: The Mighty Ducks," the discouraging "Bye Bye Love," and the appalling "George Of The Jungle." A former TV director, Sam Weisman continually displays his limited knowledge about making big screen features. "What's The Worst" has the production values of a local mattress warehouse commercial, and the rhythm in his editing is way off. The laughs the movie does manage to get often bleed into the next chunk of dialog, leaving the audience only a second to respond or else they miss another joke or needed narrative. It's like sabotaging your own film when you don't allow your jokes to breathe organically. There is an abundance of other basic comedy offenses, but I will spare you the details. I'll just mention that when the film completely runs out of inspiration, it resorts to dog flatulence, racial stereotyping, and vulgar sign language (literally) for laughs. Delightful, huh?

Just when "What's The Worst" has completely anesthetized the senses, a surprise shows up to breathe new life into the proceedings. Character actor William Fichtner ("Go," "Passion Of Mind") has a small role as a flamboyantly effeminate detective and steals the film whenever he makes it onscreen. For a film that traffics in crude comedy, Fichtner brings a sweetness and genuine delight to his ten minutes of screen time. He also keeps this risky characterization out of the dark by being so sweet, and he also happens to be the most intelligent character in the entire film. Had "What's The Worst That Could Happen?" been chock full of smart moves like this, maybe the final film wouldn't stink so much.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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