In “Little Man,” the Wayans brothers try to take dumb comedy to new heights, but they wind up shrinking the laughs along with one of their main characters, dwarfish criminal Calvin Sims (Marlon Wayans).
Following in the wake of their last picture, the dumbfounding cross-racial drag farce “White Chicks,” director and co-writer Keenen Ivory Wayans and his co-writing, co-starring brothers Marlon and Shawn have dreamed up another story in which the premise is utterly ridiculous and the execution worthy of it. “Little Man” is about 2-foot-6-inch-tall ex-con Calvin, who commits a robbery in a jewelry store with his nincompoop sidekick Percy (Tracy Morgan) but accidentally drops his prize, the Queen Diamond, into the purse of Chicago suburbanite Vanessa Edwards (Kerry Washington of “Ray”).
You’d think any self-respecting crook would simply steal the diamond back again, by burglary, armed robbery or whatever. But Calvin is under brain-addling pressure from his hoodlum boss Walken, played by Chazz Palminteri. The half-pint thief decides instead to retrieve the jewel by disguising himself as a baby and getting dropped in a basket on the doorstep of Vanessa and her hubby, Darryl (Shawn Wayans). (Calvin guesses that the parents won’t just cart him off to the police or call a social service agency.)
Despite the skepticism of Vanessa’s surly father (who may have seen the Bugs Bunny Looney Tune about disguised gangster Baby Finster, which partly inspired “Little Man”), Calvin discovers he can fool nearly everybody else. This is despite the fact that he really looks like is a thirtyish, wildly mugging Wayans brother who has had his shaven head digitally attached to the body of a 9-year-old boy. (That’s the case here; child actor who body-doubles for Marlon is Linden Porco.)
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh at some of this–though it’s not as funny as Laurel and Hardy as toddlers in “Brats.” But I wanted to slap myself whenever I did.
One problem with “Little Man” is that it requires us to believe that every character (except Vanessa’s father, played by John Witherspoon) who sees Calvin as a toddler is a total fool. Included in the idiot gallery: Darryl’s obnoxious family friends Greg and Richard (Lochlyn Munro and Fred Stoller) and their wives, Brittany and Janet (Brittany Daniel and Alex Borstein).
Another problem is that Baby Calvin inexplicably alternates between making baby faces and acting like a bad-tempered infant and revealing himself as an adult to some people by talking in his normal voice or flipping them the bird. It shouldn’t take a surveillance camera to convince Darryl that Calvin is no tyke; he’s one of the more unlikely cinematic babies since Eraserhead.
The Wayans brothers are funny guys. But this is the kind of premise that should have stayed in cartoon-land. The sheer oddness of “Little Man” suggests that the magic of movies can be misused, the versatility of the Wayans family can be abused and there are limits even to the seemingly boundless capacities of CGI. Here’s hoping that next time out, they attach Marlon’s head to a slightly more plausible body–like Stan Laurel’s or Eraserhead’s.