There was a time, back in the early ’90s, when the name Wayans, uncommon by itself, was synonymous with visionary and hilarious sketch comedy.
College dropout-turned-stand-up performer Keenen Ivory Wayans created the trailblazing show “In Living Color,” which fueled the ongoing ratings success of the breakout Fox Television network. Indeed, Fox might not be a contender for broadcasting pre-eminence today were it not for the prime-time contributions of “In Living Color” and that mother of mature animated comedies, “The Simpsons.”
With an edge and freshness once associated with “Saturday Night Live,” “In Living Color” drew loads of laughs with performances by Keenen, his brothers Damon and Marlon, and sister Kim and others including eventual superstars Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx. Marlon and not-so-funny DJ Shawn Wayans went on to enjoy their own success with the “Scary Movie” spoof and its sequel, along with a juvenile sitcom, “The Wayans Brothers.”
Now, having gained their own fan following, the brothers Marlon and Shawn team again with big brother Keenen as writers and stars of the overly derivative film White Chicks.
The film’s opening scene features Kevin (Shawn) and Marcus (Marlon) engaged in an outrageous, “In Living Color”-style dance routine as undercover FBI agents disguised as high-strung Puerto Rican shopkeepers. Moments after the pair hints that a truly wild and entertaining comedy is about to follow, the script begins to feel like a rewrite of Beverly Hills Cop. Replacing Cop’s real-life Detroit officer Gil Hill as the grisly supervisor is veteran Frankie Faison, known only as “Chief.” After chewing Marcus and Kevin out for being mavericks the chief promptly threatens to transfer them to the bureau “in Iraq.”
From there, the dull and mostly humorless trip feels even more familiar when Marcus and Kevin buck their boss — just like Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley did — and go undercover as the two snobby and privileged young ladies they are assigned to protect (never mind that FBI agents aren’t called upon to personally guard private citizens).
The movie then begins to feel more like an early draft of Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma’s House when the hip and masculine urban black dudes convincingly pass themselves off as beautiful but obnoxious suburban white girls by wearing creepy blue contacts and pasty makeup.
While Keenen Wayans shares at least partial responsibility for the weak script, White Chicks makes it increasingly clear, as did “The Wayans Brothers,” that the younger brothers are targeting an audience of teenagers who will laugh at just about anything.
Unfortunately, the road to Wayans humor leads straight to the video store, where there are plenty of vintage episodes of “In Living Color” on the shelves.
E-mail Eddie B. Allen Jr. at [email protected].