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Crazy Child

Martin Lawrence has a mean mouth, but a mild mind

Attending a 9:30 a.m. screening of the concert movie You So Crazy sounded like the downside of film reviewing. Citizens normally have little sympathy for a critic's bad day at work, but I could imagine even the most heartless of moviegoers (at least those who share something like my own middle age) saying, "Nobody should have to view a movie whose scatology and general level of obscenity caused it to be released as unrated because its distributors feared that its original NC-17 mark would be bad for business. Not until he's properly awake, at least."

Such grousing was stoked in part by the flap that the star of the movie in question, comedian Martin Lawrence, caused during a recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, and by the fact that in his previous films he hasn't struck me as particularly funny. In the movies he has been more second banana than leading man, and who wants to hear a muhfuh second banana curse?

But Lawrence's first moments of standup comedy put my fears to rest, and even woke me up. His take on racism is hardly new, and while decrying it he indulges in broad generalizations about whites and Hispanics, but Lawrence is a reasonably talented physical comedian, and his portrayal of a goofy white walk is good for a laugh, as is his take on the Rodney King affair. He complains that only blacks were shown looting during the riots, while in fact plenty of Hispanics "were getting some shit" as well. Lawrence punctuates this point by saying that he knows, because "I was there too," then giving himself a goofy walk as he carries off an imaginary looted object.

Lawrence is also effective, even poignant, as he discusses growing up poor. With his stuck-out ears and round, soft face, he looks very close to his childhood as he remembers eating syrup sandwiches, according to him a gourmet treat for kids in the projects.

When he segued from a funny bit on black men in jail to his fears of being raped, I braced myself, thinking of the homophobia that taints some black comedy. But Lawrence's take on homosexuality is surprisingly generous, as he essentially implies that any head is good head. Despite much dick talk, Lawrence is far from macho. The film's very best moments, in fact, come when he begins his series of female impersonations. After a treatise on his own masturbatory practices, he makes an abrupt switch to a scene of a woman getting herself off, squealing with pleasure as she tries to put on her makeup with her free hand.

From that point, Lawrence spends as much time in his idea of a woman's voice as in his own, and again he comes across as more generous than macho. What he perceives as black male insensitivity is perhaps his number-two target in the film's second half. Issue number one for him is his fascination with the female body. He sounds very much like a little boy telling dirty jokes at this point. He even revives a boy's joke I hadn't heard since the fifth grade -- sixth at the latest -- about the guy who gets lost inside a woman's vagina.

Ultimately, Lawrence is too childlike to be offensive. Unfortunately, that same quality keeps him from being as challenging as the ratings flap might suggest. The problem with this movie is the same as the problem with his approach to standup comedy. The setups are good, but after a while, the punchlines all start sounding alike.

-- David Theis

You So Crazy was directed unobtrusively by former Houstonian Thomas Schlamme. Starring Martin Lawrence. Unrated. 86 minutes.

 
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