Presenting the Hollywood theme of the month: dumb white boy poses as street thug at an all-black nightclub. First, it was Steve Martin as an uptight lawyer in Bringing Down the House. Now, it's Jamie Kennedy (TV's The Jamie Kennedy Experiment) in the race relations comedy Malibu's Most Wanted. The major difference: Kennedy's creation, white gangsta wannabe B-Rad, isn't just posin'. He really thinks he's down. In his mind, he ain't playin'; he's the real shiznit.
That's the crux of director John Whitesell's semi-parody on ethnic and societal stereotypes, and while suffering from being too thin and silly at times, the idea is pulled off better than one might expect. B-Rad is really Brad, as in Brad Gluckman, a super-privileged white Jewish boy who is forced to see what life in the 'hood is really like -- and finds that he actually fits in a little.
Brad's -- I mean, B-Rad's -- father is an innocuous one-dimensional man (Ryan O'Neal) running for Governor of California, and B-Rad is primed to help out on the campaign trail. But the kid is an accident waiting to happen, not to mention a walking dictionary of baffling street talk. When he creates a promo banner for dad that promotes his dedication to "bitches and hos", the candidate's staff decides to take action (even if the slogan does get the inner city vote).
Thinking they can "scare the black out of him", the staffers hire two classically trained black actors -- played by Taye Diggs and the ubiquitous Anthony Anderson -- to dress up like street hoods, carjack B-Rad's Escalade, and show him enough reality to make him whiter than a loaf of Wonder Bread.
The charm of this tale is that the plan just can't work --B-Rad is already being himself. Living his life as a gangsta rapper -- albeit a kind and peaceful one -- is his way of expressing his aspirations of stardom, just like some of the more "real" talent that he idolizes. Kennedy takes a little too long to comfortably inhabit this role, but once he reveals B-Rad's naïveté and simplicity, he's pretty easy to like.
The comic heart of the film, however, is not Kennedy, but Diggs and Anderson. They attack their pseudo-dual roles with such guts and spunk that they take over much of the movie. With their post-modern riff on the roles given to, and expectations placed on, actors of color, the pair keeps one eye on broad humor and the other on the inherent social implications.
So where is the line drawn between mocking racial stereotypes and giving in to them? It can be too gray an area as presented by Whitesell and his team of writers (including Kennedy): while they comment that there are too many misconceptions about black men, they also cast a few in the same stereotypical roles that they're parodying. What saves the film from this fence-sitting are goofy situations or twisted bits of dialogue that give your average movie thug a slightly different angle, making Malibu's Most Wanted more of a light, politically incorrect comedy than a screaming diatribe against racism. This was the same tact taken in Martin's Bringing Down the House, but the blatant manner of that film was aimed more at adults.
As mentioned, B-Rad does indeed end up in a hip-hop club, where he finally feels at home. There's something oddly sweet about a rich white kid who happily finds his identity while participating in an 8 Mile-style rap battle, in a place filled with blacks and Latinos. Especially when he can't throw down rhymes worth a lick and his pants are falling down.
Bonus features include some 20 minutes of deleted scenes (including an extended B-Rad dream sequence) and a full cast commentary track.
Word to his fatha.