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Little Man

Director: Kennen Ivory Wayans
Cast: Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Kerry Washington, John Witherspoon, Tracy Morgan, Lochlyn Munro

(Columbia Pictures; US theatrical: 14 Jul 2006 (General release); 2006)

Cheapness

Introduced in a prison cell, Calvin (elastic face by Marlon Wayans, short body by Gabe Pimental and Linden Porco) looks very tough. But appearances, as the first three minutes of Little Man work too hard to say, are deceiving. Yes, he’s a hardened criminal, his pull-up hardened arm tattooed and his teeth dulled by years of liquor and smoke, but he’s also very little, under three feet. And so, he’s got a problem. No one takes him seriously. As a man.


It’s this concern with his image that appears to drive Calvin. That and the fact that he’s caught up inside a Wayans brothers movie that not only rips off Bugs Bunny by way of Roger Rabbit for its premise—a cigar-chomping miniature criminal disguises himself as a baby, complete with bonnet and goo-goos—but also interrogates the state of the overworked suburban couple as the product of U.S. commodity culture. That is to say, Little Man does have stuff on its mind, but it tries very hard not to make that obvious.


Calvin’s first act on being released from prison—aside from smashing his 50 Cent-biting partner Percy (Tracy “I parked valet!” Morgan)—is to steal a gigantic diamond from a posh jeweler’s shop. You know it’s posh because a white-haired lady brings her lapdog inside, a dog that proceeds to climb inside Cal’s disguise (a gym bag) and disrupt the robbery. With cops on their tails, the thieves split up and Calvin ends up dropping the diamond into the nearest bag he can find, belonging to convenience store shopper Vanessa (Kerry Washington).


She and her husband Darryl (Shawn Wayans) happen to be shopping for a pregnancy test. A career-minded dynamo (which you know because she goes to the office on a Saturday), Vanessa would rather not have a child right this minute, while soulful, fatherless Darryl wants nothing more than a son he can take to the park and hockey games. She’s not pregnant, which opens the way for Calvin’s scheme: rather than sneak into their non-secured picket-fenced home to take the diamond back, he pretends to be the infant they do and don’t want. To underline that this is a comedy from the fart-joke-loving Wayans brothers—a long way from director Keenen Ivory Wayans’ on-point spoof I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)—the baby on the doorstep gimmick is punctuated by a visit from another dog: this one lifts his leg and pees on Cal.


Oh the vulgar hilarity. When Darryl and Vanessa bring the child inside, they and her father, Pops (John Witherspooon) make all sorts of faces to indicate the stink. Pops sees through the disguise right off, establishing that he’s paying attention and in for harassments (Calvin rubs Pops’ bedtime cookie on his crotch and butt, an ewww-inducing sight gag that only gets worse when the old man chomps down and comments on the cookie’s new “bite”). The ensuing grown-man-as-a-baby jokes involve gasps at the sight of the infant’s penis (“He’s a porn star!” says Pops), a bathtub shared with “daddy” (inspiring farts and homophobia), a rectal thermometer, and a nighttime bedroom visit from the “porn star,” leading to Vanessa’s next-morning delight that her husband has learned new tricks (“You were an animal! Rrrr!”). 


When the couple decides to keep the baby for the weekend, the movie launches into something of a suburban-parents parody, as they spend time with their childed friends: they go to the park, they have a birthday party (with an appearance by a kids’ tv favorite named D-Rex, here, Rob Schneider in a blue dinosaur suit). Hyper-competitive Greg (Lochlyn Munro) brings along his buxom wife Brittany (Brittany Daniel), whose bouncing breasts provide Calvin with several opportunities to ogle and grab. No surprise, Brittany tends to dress in midriff-revealing, cleavage-enhancing outfits, thus marking her difference from Vanessa’s other friend, dowdy and devoted mother Janet (Alex Borstein), who wears oversized sweatshirts and carries castor oil in her baby bag.


She also tends to ignore her young son, leaving him to be influenced by Greg’s overbearing, preening, unconvincing machismo. His manly man routine—he knocks over and slaps down little kids during a backyard football game (a scene that rips off Will Ferrell’s beating up little kids on his soccer team in Kicking & Screaming)—gets a couple of comeuppances, both simplistic. The first is delivered by Cal, who slams him to the ground and whomps him in the crotch, leaving him open to criticism from his son (“You’re a pussy”). The second is embodied by a gangster named Walken (Chazz Palminteri), in lukewarm pursuit of Cal’s diamond, accompanied by a pony-tailed thug and a bald one: all are bested, in a final showdown, by Cal’s crotch-whomping (being short, he has a defined target area).


None of these gender clichés is especially funny, and it doesn’t help that Marlon Wayans’ face often looks sloppily pasted onto the stunt bodies who do all the running around, falling, and crashing. Granted, the Wayans’ lucrative franchise is premised on not spending much money upfront, so the profits start almost as soon as the films hit theaters. But the cheapness here is more pervasive, in that the “moral”—it’s good to be and have a dad—turns insipid as the movie hammers it home, again and again. Vanessa comes to see that she needs to let go of her career plans to become a mom, and Darryl comes to see that he can be a buddy to the little man who is pretending to be his son (even if that little man is sleeping with his wife). As long as mom stays home with the baby so they can drink beers, go to hockey games, and beat up gangsters together, the guys are happy.


Little Man - Theatrical Trailer


Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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13 Nov 2006
Little Man requires a heroic (or myopic) suspension of disbelief on the part of all the adults in the film that is truly fantastic, if not a little miraculous, to keep it all going.
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