by Eric D. Snider
Released: June 23, 2004
I hope "White Chicks" proves to be the worst movie of the year, simply because I don't want to imagine a movie worse than it. It takes a premise that is unworkable to begin with, stretches it so far that no one will buy it, and then utilizes only the stalest and most obvious jokes anyway. Audiences therefore have two reasons not to enjoy it: because the plot doesn't make any sense, AND because it's not funny. Most bad films give us only one of those.
The movie is about two FBI agents who are brothers, Marcus (Marlon Wayans) and Kevin Copeland (Shawn Wayans). They are useful in sting operations and busts because they are masters of disguise, though if the opening sequence in which they pose as Latinos is any indication, they always wind up acting like African-American men anyway, so I don't know why anyone is fooled. I guess it's supposed to be funny when the "Latino" store owners don't know any real Spanish and do a lot of hip-hop dancing, but all I could think was: Wouldn't the guys they're trying to trap think something is fishy?
Anyway, their boss thinks they're a couple of screw-ups (he's right), but gives them one last easy job: Pick up millionaire heiresses the Wilson sisters (think Paris and Nicky Hilton) at the airport and escort them to the Hamptons, where it's Labor Day weekend and a huge end-of-summer party. The Wilsons, both blond, shallow, stupid and arrogant, are believed to be in danger of kidnapping, hence the FBI escort.
For reasons too wearisome to explain, the Copelands and the Wilsons are in a minor car accident that leaves one girl with a mild cut on her lip and the other with a tiny scratch on her nose. They refuse to proceed to the Hamptons looking like THAT and hunker down in a hotel instead. Now the brothers are screwed: If they can't do the one simple thing their boss asked them to do -- deliver the Wilsons to the Hamptons -- they'll be fired. Obviously, there is no alternative but for them to dress up AS the Wilson sisters and show up in their place. Surely this solution would immediately occur to you, too, if you were in their shoes.
Suspension of disbelief is one thing. Cross-dressing comedies have a long tradition in film (and in theater before it), and while it's true the men seldom REALLY look like women, at least not enough to fool anyone up close, we buy it because hey, that's the premise, and sometimes the movie is funny enough to make us overlook the details.
But there's one substantial difference: In most cross-dressing comedies, the perpetrators are not attempting to impersonate SPECIFIC members of the opposite sex. The people Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis encountered in "Some Like It Hot" (to use one of the best examples of the genre) didn't have to believe Lemmon and Curtis were anyone they knew. They were just two new "women" they'd never met before.
In "White Chicks," Marcus and Kevin are posing as two specific women, and two much-photographed, extremely famous women at that. They hang out with the Wilson sisters' friends, who somehow don't notice that the Wilsons are now taller and heavier, have different speaking voices, behave completely out of character and LOOK NOTHING LIKE THE WILSONS.
I cannot overstate this point: THEY LOOK NOTHING LIKE THEM. With their caucasian-tinted facial prosthetics, the Wayanses look vaguely like white women, yes, but more like mannequins, or burn victims. I thought frequently of the blank-looking mask Michael Myers wore in the "Halloween" films. These guys MIGHT pass themselves off as white chicks, but as two specific white chicks whose faces everyone is very familiar with, and to fool even the girls' best friends? Not a chance. If they approached you, they'd have to tell you who they're supposed to be, because you'd never guess.
I also feel great frustration over WHY they impersonate the Wilsons: that stupid car accident and the minor injuries. If Marcus and Kevin had to go undercover as a means of protecting the girls, to hide the real heiresses away so the kidnappers wouldn't find them -- well, that would at least make sense. The jokey reason given instead, and the over-the-top shuckin' and jivin' that accompanies it -- "Lawdy-lawd, we gonna get fired if we don' get them white girls to the Hamptons!" -- might be enough to fuel a five-minute comedy sketch, but not a whole movie. Films need more solid foundations than a simple "look how vain the rich girls are" joke.
There are simply no believable situations anywhere within the film, and we don't laugh at things when our brains are screaming, "That would never happen!" It's the old line between implausible and impossible. We often find humor in something unlikely happening, if the characters react the way real people would react in those situations. But we don't usually find humor in something impossible happening, because our minds reject it.
Here is an example. One of the guys (I don't know which, because they are indistinguishable with their horrific plastic faces on) becomes the object of affection for a massive black football player named Latrell (Terry Crews), who has a thing for white women. A date with "her" is being auctioned at a charity function, and to keep Latrell from winning, the remaining brother scurries around in the back of the crowd, making men raise their hands so the auctioneer will think they've placed bids. To achieve the involuntary hand-raising, he stomps on one man's foot, hits another one in the butt, and tickles another. Of course, none of these acts, if committed against you, would cause you to raise your hand in the air, but that is the effect it has on these men.
The screenplay -- credited to SIX men, including the two stars and their brother Keenen Ivory Wayans, who also directed -- resorts often to crude humor, including a by-now overdone joke with one of the brothers being lactose intolerant. He is so lactose intolerant, in fact, that literally 10 seconds after eating a dairy product, he is rushing to the bathroom to commit loud, vile acts of flatulence. Later, when he tries to make Latrell stop liking him by farting loudly in a restaurant, Latrell simply joins in with a chorus of his own. A movie about the differences between the races and the sexes, and we're doing fart jokes. Hilarious.
The other jokes are your garden-variety "white people are different from black people" bits. Witness the scene in which the fake Wilsons and their best girlfriends are driving around in a convertible. The guys are stymied when the girls expect them to sing along with Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" (which is apparently a really "white" song), but when some rap comes on the radio, they bust a move.
So APPARENTLY, black people like rap music! Get it?! They like rap music!!! What could be funnier than observing that?!
At another time, everyone is in a dance club in the Hamptons, and the Wilson crew gets into a highly choreographed "You Got Served"-style dance-off with another squadron of rich rhymes-with-witches. I highly doubt that socialite white women know moves that funky, much less that they would act so urban in public. I don't think people like this HAVE dance-offs, frankly. So why do these characters do it? So the faux Wilsons can come in and show them how it's REALLY done, of course.
Apparently, black people are also better at dancing than white people are. Again, the insightful cultural observations are astonishing.
I think it's funny, by the way, that Kevin doesn't even shave his goatee when going undercover as a Wilson sister. How that plastic face is applied -- and more to the point, how it's removed, when it's been stuck to a goatee -- I don't know. I hope it was painful, though. I hope a lot of pain was involved in making the film, because I can attest that a lot of pain -- and boredom and eye-rolling and disgust -- was involved in watching it.
Rated PG-13, some profanity, some innuendo
1 hr., 48 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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