There are exactly two funny performances in "Malibu's Most Wanted" -- a one-joke comedy about an over-privileged white-boy wannabe rapper -- and neither of them are by top-liner and co-writer Jamie Kennedy.
Expanding on a two-bit sketch character from his self-titled WB network variety show, Kennedy plays B-Rad G (nee Brad Gluckman), a pathetic poser "from the 'Bu," where "everybody's strapped with a nine" (nine-iron, that is) and "most of the time the police won't even come through" (because the town is pretty much crime-free).
Being from a straight-laced political family, Brad has become such an embarrassment to his father's gubernatorial campaign that daddy (Ryan O'Neal) hires two Juilliard theater graduates to play gangstaz, kidnap the brat and drop him in Compton to scare the imaginary "ghetto" out of him.
Almost all the movie's laughs come courtesy of Anthony Anderson ("Kangaroo Jack") and Taye Diggs ("Brown Sugar"), who relish playing these classically trained and totally sissified actors that are more concerned with finding the essence of their gang-banger characters than they are with completing their mission. "This will be the ultimate acting challenge," they exclaim as they try on bling-bling jewelry, practice calling each other "bi-atch," and adopt the names "Tre" and "Bloodbath."
When these two are on screen, Kennedy is more than just white -- he's invisible.
A decade too old (at age 33) and 15 pounds too paunchy around the middle to be credible as a college kid who still lives at home, Kennedy's larger problem is that despite his character's tastelessly gaudy track suits and intentionally all-slang dialogue, he simply has no screen presence.
Upstaged even by bit players in his beach-town posse, he mugs furiously for the camera to no avail. He spoofs Eminem in an "8 Mile"-inspired rap battle, and only gets a laugh by showing some butt crack when B-Rad tries to be cool by wearing his pants too low.
When Kennedy really should be going for maximum mockery -- in romantic scenes with Regina Hall ("Scary Movie," "Paid In Full") -- suddenly we're supposed to take B-Rad relatively seriously. Apparently the hero must get the girl, even if there's nothing whatsoever she'd find attractive about the pasty white wannabe.
Hall's character really is from the 'hood, has confidence and pride, and has pulled herself up by her bootstraps. Yet there she is, cooing to Kennedy that "I respect you for getting up there" after his pathetic rhymes get him booed off the rap battle stage and thrown in a dumpster.
Director John Whitesell ("See Spot Run") squeezes a genuinely funny 10 minutes out of B-Rad realizing that Tre and Bloodbath are fakes -- just as he gets kidnapped for real by authentic street toughs. Thinking it's all part of the act, he stops quivering and quaking in his Nikes long enough to play the bad-ass during a drive-by. It's only when he's initiated into their gang for standing up to the gunfire that it hits him these hoodlums aren't playin'.
But when the gang leader (Damien Dante Wayans), the dad's campaign manager (Blair Underwood) and even B-Rad's oil-rich immigrant buddy Hadji (Kal Penn) -- nicknamed "The Beast from the Middle-East" within their country club "crew" -- garner more giggles than Kennedy, it becomes clear that this already short-on-laughs comedy has a terminal case of miscasting.
Since Kennedy and two of his TV show cohorts rewrote the original script (by stand-up comedian Nick Swardson), there was never any chance of someone with more talent or charisma getting the lead role. So it seems "Malibu's Most Wanted" was doomed as soon as Kennedy got his hands on it -- if not before.