White Chicks (2004)


In my mind, the Wayans family has been responsible for dozens of movies in the 2000s, so I was surprised to discover that the number is actually just five: “Scary Movie,” “Scary Movie 2,” “White Chicks,” “Little Man,” and “Dance Flick.” Also a little surprising was the realization that except for the first “Scary Movie,” every Wayans production has been not just bad but punishingly, miserably, grade-F bad. Something about the Wayanses’ concept of humor is almost completely at odds with mine.

What I said then:

“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…. The screenplay … resorts often to crude humor, including a by-now overdone joke with one of the brothers being lactose intolerant…. The other jokes are your garden-variety ‘white people are different from black people’ bits…. 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.” Grade: F [complete review]

My wish that no film in 2004 would be worse than “White Chicks” was granted, at least according to my year-end list. In hindsight, my No. 2 choice, “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2,” feels like it was probably slightly worse, but the only way to test that theory is to watch it again, which I am not prepared to do at this point.

Not that I was alone in my dismissal of “White Chicks,” of course. But it did get a handful of positive reviews — 15 percent, according to Rotten Tomatoes — and it was successful at the box office, making $70 million in the United States and another $42 million overseas. A not-insignificant number of people evidently liked it. So let’s give it another chance, shall we?

The re-viewing:

As I noted in my original review, most cross-dressing comedies are “implausible” in that the men usually don’t make very convincing women. Even the best entries in the genre, like “Tootsie” and “Some Like It Hot,” require the viewer to overlook the fact that anyone spending five seconds with these “women” would realize that they are actually men in drag. You just have to go with it.

What I couldn’t get past in “White Chicks” was that the guys weren’t just posing as random, anonymous women. They were posing as specific, famous women. I could buy that people would be fooled into thinking they were ladies. But I couldn’t buy that anyone would believe they were ladies whom they’d met and spoken with before. Even a really good celebrity impersonator wouldn’t deceive people who actually know the celebrity.

That was my primary fixation in 2004. (With regard to this movie, I mean. Not in 2004 in general.) But this time I figured if I could overlook the Wayans brothers’ not looking like women, I could also overlook their not looking like the specific characters they were posing as. A good movie doesn’t require you to make yourself do anything — a good movie does it for you — but while the possibility of “White Chicks” being a good movie was remote, I wondered if it could at least be a tolerable one once I got past that mental block.

The movie sure doesn’t make it easy for me. The first time the guys go out in public dressed as the Paris Hilton-ish celebutantes they’re impersonating, their fine booties are ogled by passing men. They both respond to this with loud, masculine belligerence — “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? HOW DARE YOU?” etc — which is stupid. They’re trying to pass themselves off as women, remember?

This is a running theme in sub-par comedies involving law enforcement. FBI agents go undercover, yet they continue to act they way they normally do, for “comedy.” The Wayanses do it at the beginning of “White Chicks,” posing as Cuban shop owners but speaking gibberish Spanish and dancing around like buffoons — completely blowing their cover, basically. I understand that it’s mildly funny to see Shawn and Marlon Wayans do a comedy skit in elaborate makeup and prosthetics, but it totally ruins the reality of the scene. And that’s the definition of a cheap, lazy laugh: one that comes at the expense of the scene.

There’s a similar lack of discipline with Lisa (Faune Chambers), the wife of Marlon’s character, Marcus. The first Lisa-related jokes establish her as a clingy, suspicious, demanding woman. When she calls Marcus on his cell phone and he says he can’t talk because he’s being chewed out by his boss, she immediately calls the boss’s cell phone. When Marcus gets home that night, she wants to know why it took him eight minutes when it’s normally a six-minute drive. Those may not be great gags, but they serve the purpose: now we know that Marcus’ wife is overbearing.

But wait! The very next thing that happens is that Lisa begins to tell Marcus about her day, and he immediately dozes off — now he’s the jerk. And for the rest of the movie, he’s learning to appreciate his wife and not take her for granted. All that stuff about Lisa being awful is completely forgotten, like it never happened. In other words, the movie establishes what kind of character Lisa is … and then, once the immediate need for a joke has passed, disregards it.

One of the movie’s positive reviews — linked at Rotten Tomatoes to remind us that you only need to be semi-literate to be linked at Rotten Tomatoes — says, “If you just want mindless entertainment check it out. Check your brain at the door and giggle your butt off.” We’ve discussed previously how this is a nonsensical thing to say, but I did notice that as I got increasingly bored with “White Chicks” and started folding laundry and looking at Twitter while I watched it, it become more pleasant. Not funny, still, but not actively irritating anymore either. Some of the stuff with Terry Crews as the lovestruck athlete who pursues one of the non-women is amusing. If you were to stumble across it on cable, you might watch five minutes of it and not think it was the worst thing you’d ever seen.

So I guess the right way to enjoy “White Chicks” is to only half-watch it while you’re doing something else. I hope they quote me on the Blu-ray!

Do I still hate this movie?

Yes, albeit not as passionately as I did before. A second viewing confirms that it’s a sloppy, undisciplined, unfocused mess made by people who excel at writing brief comedy sketches but not full-length stories. But it’s a more harmless, negligible kind of awful than I previously gave it credit for. Grade: D