Dir. Keenan Ivory Wayans, USA, 2006, 90 mins
Cast: Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Kerry Washington, Tracy Morgan
Review by Michael Blyth
To what extent one will appreciate the Wayans family’s latest effort can be categorically determined within its opening sequence. In a maximum-security prison, notorious jewel thief Calvin Sims is preparing for his release. As our criminal mastermind is escorted from the premises, prison officers look on anxiously, while fellow inmates salute the departure of the notorious felon. Once outside, the camera pulls back to reveal that Calvin is only two feet tall. If this sight of a pint-sized ex-con raises a chuckle, it can be safely assumed the rest of the film will garner a similar response. But considering it remains essentially the only gag on offer, for those unconvinced, an arduous 90 minutes lie ahead.
Following his release from prison, Calvin Sims (Marlon Wayans) prepares for one final heist. But his plan to steal a priceless diamond is seemingly foiled when the security alarm is triggered in a jewellery store. Desperate to rid himself of the diamond and flee the cops, Calvin drops the jewel into the bag of the unsuspecting Vanessa Edwards (Kerry Washington), who is out shopping with her fiancé Darryl (Shawn Wayans). Once out of the reach of police, Calvin hatches a plan to masquerade as an abandoned baby, and is taken in by Darryl and Vanessa. Now Calvin must retrieve the diamond and return it to his angry boss before it gets too late.
Given the film’s subject matter, Wayans tendency to revert to sex jokes and innuendo makes for a largely uncomfortable experience. Dressed in baby grows and nappies, Calvin must rank as one of cinema’s creepiest creations, with his ‘baby’ persona sexualised to a disturbing degree. His frequent droolings over the maternal instincts of Vanessa are in particular bad taste, while one scene that hints he has impersonated Darryl so he can sleep with his adopted mother, bears disturbing suggestions of rape and incest that defy belief.
Elsewhere Wayans continues to struggle with the tone. His moralising views on paternity and family bonding are sappy at best, feeling clumsy and patronising. Even the race related jokes fall flat. Police dialogue that describes their suspect by what Starbucks coffee his skin tone most resembles seems all too predictable from a filmmaker who has regularly parodied Hollywood racial stereotypes since his directorial debut I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. But it is in the climactic scenes that the flimsiness of the plot becomes most apparent. In a final fight for the stolen diamond, Calvin, Darryl and a bunch of mobsters embark on a slapstick showdown that bears much resemblance to the booby-trapped set pieces in Home Alone, with Calvin coming across like a blaxploitation Macaulay Culkin. Such shenanigans may have appealed to kids, were it not for the sexual content that precedes them, but seem too juvenile for Little Man to be of interest to adult viewers.
As with other recent gross-out comedies like Date Movie or the Scary Movie series, film references run rampant throughout. Brokeback Mountain gets a predictable mention, and Deuce Bigalow star Rob Schneider pops up in an uninspired cameo. Of course, while such self-reflexive nods may achieve a laugh today, they are so focused on the popular culture of the present that it seems unlikely Little Man will have much resonance in the foreseeable future. And for that, at least, we can all be grateful.