That's what popped into my head as I watched the Wayans brothers' latest comedy, Little Man - dignity, integrity, self-worth, self-respect.
Don't misunderstand. It's not that I wished anyone involved had dignity, integrity, self-worth, or self-respect. Quite the opposite. What astonished me was how actors in this situation, professionals, genuinely funny people who know better, would think they might retain a bit of dignity.
Dignity has no place in a Wayans brothers movie, not in White Chicks and not in Scary Movie. And it shouldn't, either. (Leave the dignity to Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington.) And yet - there's always that moral lesson around the corner in these movies, that tug of the heart that has no place tucked between the flatulence, knees to the groins, and blows to the head. Little Man, if you haven't seen the freakishly odd commercials, is a comedy in which a small criminal named Calvin infiltrates an upper-middle-class home - disguised as an infant.
That's the concept. It's dumb. But no worse than, say, the plot of Some Like It Hot, in which Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are disguised as hot women and no one questions it.
As long as the jokes are flowing, who cares what the premise is? Except here, we segue bizarrely into a story about the sacrifices of motherhood, the difficulty of parenting, and how sad it is the little guy didn't have a nice family to nurture him. As a woman sitting behind me mumbled, "Too much drama."
The gag, however, is that, rather than having a small actor (or Tom Cruise or Prince) play the diamond thief, the head of Marlon Wayans is digitally superimposed over the heads of actual people. It's hard to watch without thinking what the performers who donated their bodies - Linden Porco and Gabe Pimental, credited as "Calvin Body" - must have been thinking. Did they feel demeaned? Used? Or once they saw the final film, perhaps that anonymity wasn't so bad?
What's funny about Little Man - aside from Saturday Night Live alum Tracy Morgan, the one actor here who knows a broad comedy when he stumbles around one - what's audacious about it, is nothing that's on the screen. It delivers what you expect, nothing more, and frankly, if you are still shocked by jokes about bowel movements and weird sex and a mild political incorrectness, you haven't been to a theater since, oh, circa There's Something About Mary.
No, what's audacious about Little Man is that, presumably, the folks at Columbia Pictures saw it and decided it was OK to release. Maybe some people at the top have a thing for the knowing awfulness of John Waters. Because they were fine with Wayans brothers as white chicks who looked vaguely like the albino cannibals from The Time Machine, and now they're OK with a special-effects gimmick so off-putting it's only funny because of how bad it looks.
Marlon's head floats. It does.
Sometimes off the neck.
Sometimes even the face floats away from the head. To a wildly unintentionally hilarious extent, the movements of the actors playing the body don't match the mugging of Marlon Wayans. I think of the late Gene Siskel, who once said, "You know you have a weird job when you tell your children, 'Kids, today I watched a movie about a man-eating tree.'●" Well, how about the visual equivalent of kung fu movie dubbing?
I won't sleep for a month.