The best thing you can say about Little Man is that it’s not nearly as execrable as, by all rights, it should be. And while it’s really not all that terrific either, it certainly doesn’t deserve the opprobrium heaped upon it by critics and audiences alike. It currently rates a 26 out of a 100 on Metacritic, and holds the dubious 30 slot on the IMDB Bottom 100 user rating list, one position ahead of the infinitely hideous It’s Pat. The surface crudeness and vulgarity typical of the Wayans Brothers’ oeuvre actually belies an inner sweetness that is rather quaint, in its way. Coursing just beneath an endless barrage of scatological piss, poop and fart jokes; an apparently inexhaustible enthusiasm for objects flying into male crotches; and general sex obsessed bawdiness, is a heartening pro-family message, coupled with a screed against the contemporary scourge of broken African-American families, and a vote of confidence for…. Aw wait, who am I kidding here? It’s really nothing much more than fart jokes and kicks to the crotch.
So, then, the titular “Little Man” is Calvin, an, um, vertically challenged con just sprung from the clink. Five minutes out, and he and his partner in crime, Percy (a 50 Cent obsessed rap mogul wannabe) are lifting a diamond from a jewelry store for a local Mafioso. Things naturally go awry with the law, and Calvin is forced to secret the diamond in a woman’s handbag. Following the woman and her fiancée home, the two cons cook up a scheme to retrieve the diamond with a most improbable and unnecessary ruse (because if they just did the common sense thing — kick the door in and grab it at gun point — we’d have no movie, and no laughs, you see). See, Daryl and Vanessa (the couple) are very much in love, but their relationship is strained over the issue of kids (he wants them, she wants a career). So of course, somehow they will be the perfect foils for the hoods’ bold scheme, which is to disguise Calvin as an infant, and “abandon” him on their doorstep.
Now, before you start to chuckle derisively and shake your head in disbelief at such a preposterously stupid and idiotic idea (both as a plan within the movie, and as the main plot point of the movie itself), let me beat you to the punch: this is a preposterously stupid and idiotic idea. And not a particularly original one either, since it was done already, and to better effect, in an old Bugs Bunny clip: http://youtube.com/watch?v=3UJL7bebx1A See? (At least director and head Wayans, Keenan, acknowledges such in the extras) Really, this is the sort of one note joke that can work in a seven-eight minute cartoon, but can’t sustain itself much beyond that. And of course, it all 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. Because, though Calvin is indeed pint sized enough to pass for a largish tot, you’d think that with his freshly shorn, but still stubbly, head; the full set of teeth (with bridge work, mind you); the Air Force tattoo; and / or the knife wound in his abdomen, the jig would be up sort of quickly. And add all this on top of the logistics of keeping his facial hair under control. I know I know — this is not the type of film which you should hold up to the rigors of common sense. And maybe this is sort of a commentary on how much parents are willing to overlook certain flaws in their desperation to have the perfect family. But again, who are we kidding here? The gag is what it is: comic mugging of an adult head on a child’s body.
But I don’t mind having my intelligence insulted, as long as the yuks keep coming. And while they don’t come nearly as often and as full on as I wish they would’ve, I have to admit, there were quite a few moments I laughed out heartily. Two jokes involving a particularly peripatetic toy plane flying into a man’s crotch after an improbably circuitous flight slay both times, I don’t care what anyone else says (I know iterations of the “football to the crotch” are scraping the bottom of the comedic barrel, but still). And several excellent cameos by In Living Color and Saturday Night Live alum, especially Molly Shannon as a frantic, traffic challenged soccer mom, and Rob Scheider (!) as a bug eyed, sweaty, recovering junkie who has taken a job as a combative party dinosaur, are timed perfectly for when the film is flagging on the larfs.
So then, if it’s not quite comedy gold (or bronze… really, it’s copper at best), then what are we to make of Little Man? I come back to the whole broken family and notions of African-American fatherhood in ’06, and think, yeah, maybe the Wayans are on to something here, planting a lament and plea for parental responsibility in a Trojan Horse of a comedy. But this is really, really grasping (especially when at the end of the film, when Calvin’s cover is finally blown, he and his adoptive “father”, now the best of friends, sneak off to a strip club – not very responsible). No, in the end it’s just a sub par Bugs Bunny knock off, mildly grotesque, and basically harmless and inoffensive. The Wayans Brothers may eventually have more to give us than film after film of horror spoofs and black guys dressing up in white drag, but Little Man is sunk by its even littler ambitions.
Now, the DVD case promises to be “Loaded With Extra Crap”, and I guess the usual array of deleted and / or extended scenes are just that. But the several shortish yet highly informative behind the scenes features here are genuinely intriguing stuff. The amount of work that has gone into such an inconsequential film is supremely staggering. Basically, to pull of desired effect of having Marlon Wayans look like he is a 2’6″ little person, director Keenan Ivory Wayans and his crack production team (who, really, are simply all saints for working on this, paycheck or no) had to go out and find, and shoot the movie with, a 2’6″ body double, a nine-year-old boy named Linden Porco. Later on, in post production, Marlon’s head would be grafted onto the boy’s body. With various editing and green screen trickery — having Marlon in essence shoot the entire film again with just his head — the effect that results in the film is nearly flawless and natural (well, if seeing a grown man’s head on a child’s body can really be considered natural), if ridiculously time consuming and cumbersome.
And so it’s all very professional and well done — but here’s the thing that gets me. Born with cartilage-hair hypoplasia, a form of dwarfism that stunts growth, but allows for proportional development, Linden is an absolute dynamo of enthusiasm and comic verve. Both on set and off, he comes across like a natural. Never having acted before, he basically learns all the lines and delivers them in full in the scenes as they are acted out, and is responsible for almost all of the “Calvin” character’s “acting”. His is the real body and head (digitally removed, in the end — the head, that is) that we are seeing, his is the natural comic timing and physical comedy talents. So then, if he’s in nearly 100 percent of the film, why is his name nowhere to be found on the box credits? Yes, this is a Wayans Brothers vehicle, and yes, I know audiences would rather see Marlon mugging for the camera than some unknown kid from Canada. But I really think you need to give the kid his proper due, here.
And then think of what a much more fascinating film this would have been if somehow they rewrote the entire story for Linden — having a nine year old in cahoots with diamond thieves and gangsters, adopted by a black family, something of a quasi-tragic Dickensian orphan, wise beyond his precious years. I’m sure there isn’t a big, if any, audience for something like that. Perhaps it would be even more offensive in some quarters. But I’m betting it would be quite a bit more memorable than Little Man turned out to be.