Maybe I’m misremembering, but everyone seemed more open about race and ethnicity in the pop culture of the ’70s. Whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos spoofed stereotypes, kidded each other and made jokes that took into account minority angerall while presenting a casual vision of harmony based on frank talk and wit. Sometime in the ’80s, hip racial humor disappeared from game shows, sitcoms and movies, and it holed up in comedy clubs, where it played to an increasingly shrinking audience. Every now and then, movies like the recent Bringing Down the House, Head of State and Malibu’s Most Wanted come along and promise to bring the awareness back, but something always gets in the wayan excess of plot, broad and unfunny jokes, or just a general spinelessness.
Malibu’s Most Wanted is especially disappointing, not because the people involved are wildly talented, but because the premise is much tougher than the product. The game but too sweet Jamie Kennedy plays Brad Gluckman, a hip-hop-obsessed politician’s son who embarrasses his governor-wannabe father (Ryan O’Neal) when he starts hogging the cameras as hardcore rapper B-Rad. So the elder Gluckman agrees to have Brad fake-kidnapped by two actorsplayed by Anthony Anderson and Taye Diggs, the latter on his way to “whatever happened to”-villewho take the BET junkie on a tour of the real ghetto to “scare the black out of him.”
So we’ve got a rich white kid, juiced on an outlandish, cartoon version of black culture, and we’ve got two middle-class black actors trying to keep up with him by making minstrels of themselves. Director John Whitesell and the movie’s team of screenwriters (most from Jamie Kennedy’s sketch comedy TV show) have a foundation from which to push at the audience’s prejudices, subverting our expectations and making us squirm in our seats. But they’re too interested in being liked. Malibu’s Most Wanted ends up being the kind of movie where fast food cashiers wear hats adorned with hot dogs, and pratfalls and property damage take precedence over pertinent social commentary.
All of which would be excusable if Malibu’s Most Wanted were funny, but aside from a few good jokes (an Asian TV reporter with a Hispanic last name, a thug so poor he can only afford the nonexistent “GameCast” video game system), the best that can be said about the movie is that it’s an amiable time-waster. Like the much funnier but equally toothless Old School and like so many other comedies this season, Malibu’s Most Wanted squanders opportunitiesand, worse, kills conversation.
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