- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Movies based on recurring "Saturday Night Live" characters have a horrific track record. For every success like "Wayne's World," there's "The Coneheads," "Superstar" or "A Night at the Roxbury" to remind us how problematic the transition can be.

So, a film inspired by a character from a modest WB sketch show seems a sure bet to stink up a cineplex near you.

"Malibu's Most Wanted" defies that stone-cold logic.

Jamie Kennedy lifts his bumbling white-rapper persona from "JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" and gives him plenty of slick comic support. Not simply a series of loosely connected gags, this rap comedy is far more coherent than anyone had a right to expect.

Most welcome is how inoffensive this genial farce is, considering that it banks so heavily on rap stereotypes for its humor.

It even sandwiches in a sweet love story between Mr. Kennedy's B-Rad and a brassy beautician played by Regina Hall ("Scary Movie").

B-Rad is an innocent who sincerely adores rap culture. Detractors brush him off, calling him Snowflake, Saltine, even the White Kong after he pulls off an improbable gang victory late in the film. Nothing bothers him, except the gnawing fear that he may be the worst rapper in his or any other 'hood.

Mind you, "Malibu's Most Wanted" is no grand farce. The film's "just be yourself" psychobabble immediately wears thin, and only so much comic mileage can be made from a rap poseur who constantly brays, "Don't be hatin'."

Brad "B-Rad" Gluckman lives the life of any other spoiled, neglected rich kid from "the 'bu" that's Malibu to you and me. He spends his time either in his "crib," a gorgeous, sun-drenched mansion, or the local coffee shop, where he busts his rhymes to anyone unlucky enough to sit nearby.

Hip-hop is his whole way of life, from his "bling-bling" gold chains to his pastel-colored jumpsuits.

He doesn't get much love from his parents (a game Ryan O'Neal and Bo Derek), so he commiserates with the family's black help, complaining that Gluckman is his "slave name."

When the film opens, the elder Gluckman is running for governor and fears his son's behavior might alienate pockets of potential voters.

His campaign manager (a cool, racially neutral turn by Blair Underwood) hires two classically trained actors to pose as "gangstas" to carjack B-Rad and show him what a real thug's life is all about.

"It might just scare the black out of him," the campaign manager says.

The thespians, Taye Diggs and the ubiquitous Anthony Anderson, bicker over their dramatic motivation as they hold B-Rad hostage, a scheme aided by Miss Hall's ambivalent beautician, Shondra.

The plan soon goes awry, and B-Rad finds himself enmeshed in a real gangsta turf battle.

Mr. Kennedy's delivery, part Eminem, part whiny drone, is the least appealing part of the B-Rad package. The young actor's comic timing his innate strength surpasses that of many of his peers. The comic's throwaway delivery turns wan lines into legitimate chuckles.

The actor doesn't have the comic gravitas of a Jim Carrey or even an Adam Sandler. Yet his performance isn't the eye-bulging, overreaching sort found in too many teen-based comedies. The doughy-faced actor is smarter than that.

So, too, is veteran television director John Whitesell, who guides the increasingly silly proceedings with an assured hand.

A midfilm scene featuring a talking rat, voiced by Snoop Dogg, threatens to careen this vehicle permanently off track, but it recovers nicely, particularly when Mr. Kennedy spoofs Denzel Washington's signature line from "Training Day": "King Kong ain't got nuthin' on me."

Despite its agreeable nature, the film reeks of the small screen, and not just because of B-Rad's roots. The entire production seems minor in scale, down to its scant 80-minute length.

On paper, "Malibu's Most Wanted" should be a debacle on the order of "It's Pat," arguably "SNL's" worst character-driven movie.

Instead, Mr. Kennedy spends his time in "the 'bu" keeping it real real funny, that is.


TITLE: "Malibu's Most Wanted"

RATING: PG-13 (Alcohol use, gangsta-style gunplay, a mild sexual situation)

CREDITS: Directed by John Whitesell, written by Fax Bahr, Adam Small, Jamie Kennedy and Nick Swardson

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes


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