The term "wildly uneven" doesn't come close to charting the peaks and valleys of "Marci X," a slapdash, scattershot comedy about a pampered Jewish American Princess and an aggressively controversial African-American rap star. Pic may get a pass from critics because it isn't the unmitigated disaster that its negative buzz indicated.

The term “wildly uneven” doesn’t come close to charting the sporadic peaks and interminable valleys of “Marci X,” a slapdash, scattershot comedy about a pampered Jewish American Princess and her unlikely alliance with an aggressively controversial African-American rap star. Although it wasn’t advance-screened for press, pic may get a pass from many critics simply because it isn’t the unmitigated disaster that its long-delayed release and deafening negative buzz indicated. Even so, token theatrical run seems a mere formality for this trifle, best suited for undiscriminating homevid renters.

Shrewdly cast leads Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans give half-baked project far more than it ever gives them. Kudrow plays Marci Feld, the fatuous sunny-bunny daughter of multimillionaire mogul Ben Feld (Richard Benjamin, doing double duty as helmer). Marci excels in her avocations as charity fund-raiser, society hostess and world-class shopaholic.

But she’s hard-pressed to be of much assistance when her father is blindsided by uproar over Dr. S (Wayans), a semi-incendiary rapper whose record label is one of Feld’s more obscure properties. Because of his tenuous connection to filthy music (that corrupts impressionable minds), Sen. Mary Ellen Spinkle (Christine Baranski in starchy, snippy mode), an archconservative moralizer, labels Feld a public menace — and, worse, targets him for a Senate investigation.

Severely stressed, Feld winds up in a hospital isolation ward. So Marci takes it upon herself to confront Dr. S in the hope of convincing him to clean up his act.

Not surprisingly, Dr. S isn’t eager to bowdlerize his chart-topping tunes. (Among his hit singles: “I Am the King of Your Mouth,” “The Power in My Pants” and “It Ain’t My Baby, ‘Cause I Don’t Even Like You.”) And even after Marci improbably excites a Harlem concert audience with her own white-bread rap — an improvised ode to designer handbags — the preening gangsta refuses to cooperate with her campaign to rehabilitate his image.

However, Marci and Dr. S find themselves drawn toward each other. And with good reason: The opposites are attractive. Kudrow hits the right balance of ditziness and sincerity, while Wayans plays the good doctor with sly, self-mocking wit. Better still, they remain steadfastly in character, even as their roles veer into caricature.

Many mainstream pics are laughably timid when it comes to dealing with black-white star pairings. To its credit, “Marci X” refuses to soft-pedal or avoid interracial sexual chemistry and matter-of-factly includes closeup liplocks and a frisky bedroom clinch.

Screenwriter Paul Rudnick (“Jeffrey,” “In & Out”) takes broad swipes at easy targets — censorious right-wingers, sexually ambiguous boy bands, flighty JAPs, gangsta poseurs, etc. — and occasionally hits paydirt with a few well-timed absurdities. (At one point, Dr. S reluctantly admits that he and Marci have been cuddling while watching a lot of Meg Ryan movies together.) Supporting players — including Billy Griffith as a Suge Knight-style record company executive — are well attuned to pic’s cartoonishly satirical tone.

For too much of its running time, however, “Marci X’ plays like an overextended variety-show sketch. Inspiration flags in second half, and Benjamin’s direction rarely evidences sufficient spark.

Choppy continuity and erratic pacing underscore other problems. Pic has the patchworky feel of something that was reshaped in the editing room after previews, then clumsily supplemented with last-minute reshoots.

It doesn’t help that lighting and lensing are so gracelessly unattractive. Amusing production numbers choreographed by stage vet Jerry Mitchell (“The Full Monty”) suggest “Marci X” may have been originally envisioned as a musical. Perhaps the pic will be remembered best as source material for a Broadway hit a few years down the road.

Marci X

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Scott Rudin production. Produced by Scott Rudin. Executive producers, Steve Nicolaides, Adam Schroeder. Directed by Richard Benjamin. Screenplay, Paul Rudnick.

Crew

Camera (color), Robbie Greenberg; editor, Jacqueline Cambas; music, Mervyn Warren; original songs, Warren, Marc Shaiman; production designer, Therese DePrez; art director, Nicholas Lundy; set decorator, Diane Lederman; costume designer, David C. Robinson; sound (Dolby DTS), Danny Michael; choreography, Jerry Mitchell; assistant director, Julie A. Bloom; casting, Ilene Starger. Reviewed at Cinemark Tinseltown Westchase, Houston, Aug. 22, 2003. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Marci Feld - Lisa Kudrow Dr. S - Damon Wayans Ben Feld - Richard Benjamin Sen. Mary Ellen Spinkle - Christine Baranski Yolanda Quinones - Paula Garces Tubby Fenders - Billy Griffith Lauren - Jane Krakowski Kirsten - Sherie Rene Scott Caitlin - Veanne Cox
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