Directed By: Sam Weisman
Screenplay By: Matthew Chapman
Based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake
Produced By: Ashok Amritraj, Wendy Dytman, David Hoberman, Lawrence Turman
Cast: Martin Lawrence, John Leguizamo, Danny DeVito, Bernie Mac
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes
Review Date: July 16, 2010
Comic actors need to work — even funny ones. That’s how movies like What’s the Worst That Could Happen? get made.
This is a pretty stock vehicle for Martin Lawrence to star in, but it’s surprising to see the long list of veteran character actors in the cast, including co-star Danny DeVito, Larry Miller, Glenne Headly, and William Fichtner. They’re the ones who keep this flick afloat, but when humor this broad is employed, there’s not much you can do to save the script.
Lawrence plays Kevin Caffery, a burglar with taste. He and his friends target the upper classes, snagging works of art along with the usual valuables. But Caffery is the one who gets robbed — on the job, no less — after breaking into crooked millionaire Max Fairbanks’s (DeVito) mansion. Fairbanks takes Caffery’s lucky ring, setting off a war between the two thieves.
There’s a loose and faintly ridiculous subplot regarding Caffery’s girlfriend, an anthropology major who gave him the ring and shrugs off his confession to being a burglar. That plot detail tells you a lot about how hard it is to believe any of the actions of the characters in this film.
The one thing Caffery doesn’t steal in this film is laughs from the audience. Most comedians start their careers as class clowns, but Lawrence never seems to have advanced beyond that. He tends to fill dead space with air-freak dancing rather than relying on delivery or jokes. Co-star John Leguizamo suffers from the same malady. There’s one particularly cringe-worthy gag where they babble in mock-Arabic while disguised as sheiks. Yes, it’s that kind of comedy.
There are some chuckles to be found, though. William Fichtner is hilarious as the kind of swishy detective you’d expect Oscar Wilde would be, overdressed and with cane in hand. It’s still stereotype-based humor, but Fichtner turns the character into something so totally bizarre that you feel like he strolled in from another movie — a more interesting one, perhaps.
In fact, most of the cast tends to play “types,” like the Tarot-reading secretary, or the couple that does stage magic by day and robs houses by night. Some handle their roles better than others, but there’s a universal feel of phoning in performances.
In the end, the only recommendation for this movie is to answer the titular question: You sit through the whole thing.
Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.