What is it with Damon Wayans? Last year, he offered up “Blankman,” about a superhero with almost no powers (and a screenplay with even fewer laughs).
Now comes the even-more-unfortunately named “Major Payne,” which opens with George Thorogood growling the aptly titled “Bad to the Bone.” It’s like the “In Living Color” grad has a critical death wish.
Sure, the plot - an ex-Marine sets to whipping a motley crew of Junior ROTC kids into shape - is still hoping to graduate to elementary, the characters are about a half-dimension short of “two-dimensional” and the soundtrack is littered with rough language and bathroom humor. But thanks to a surprising number of chuckles and a star who wears well, “Major Payne” is no more than a minor annoyance.
Believe it or not, “Payne’s” roots are in a 1955 Charlton Heston flick called “The Private War of Major Benson,” which copped an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay. Don’t look for any Oscar candidates in this loose remake (unless the academy adds a statuette for outstanding dental design - Wayans’ gold tooth shines brighter than any of his co-stars).
The squad of kiddo losers has all the required stereotypes: jug-eared asthma case, brown-nosing officer wanna-be, candychomping fat boy, rebellious leader-in-waiting. Their 6-year-old mascot, Tiger (Orlando Brown), is cute as a button, but not nearly as useful.
And, of course, there’s the standard-issue love interest, a warm-hearted teacher named Emily (Karyn Parsons), who doggedly pursues Payne despite his murderous past and his oftoffensive present.
The major is no Homey the Clown, but he has his comic moments, especially when resurrecting Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and a ‘70s step called The Robot during a dancefloor sequence. Despite the high-stepping foray out of character, though, Wayans is still clearly a sketch comic caught in a 97-minute movie.
The star, also a co-writer, and director Nick Castle (“Dennis the Menace”) never really decide who they’re aiming for here. The language is too harsh for young kids, and a flatulent tribute to “Dumb and Dumber” (what’s with this sudden cinematic fascination with super-laxatives, anyway?) should warn off most post-teens.
But if your guilty-pleasure prescription calls for mindless laughs, “Payne” occasionally can be a killer.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: “Major Payne” Locations: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Cast: Directed by Nick Castle; starring Damon Wayans, Orlando Brown, Karyn Parsons Running time: 97 minutes Rating: PG-13