There are probably some moviegoers who can laugh at the sight of a groin-punching, breast-grabbing baby, possibly even find it cute. Everyone else should steer clear of “Little Man,” which welds Marlon Wayans’ head to a diminutive body double, offering up the creepiest bigscreen dwarf since the last David Lynch movie. Not without its share of inspired crudities, this vulgar, violent comedy should provide decent counterprogramming during a blockbuster-heavy frame, drawing the usual overlap of urban audiences and Wayans brothers devotees.
The brothers’ work on the “Scary Movie” franchise notwithstanding, “Little Man” may just be their scariest movie yet, with credit going entirely to its mesmerizingly freaky title character. Played by Marlon, whose head has been digitally grafted onto the body of 9-year-old thesp Linden Porco (Gabe Pimental is also credited as a double), Calvin is a hardened thug who stands exactly two-foot-six in height (a cousin, perhaps, of Tony Cox’s pint-sized burglar in “Bad Santa”).
Fresh out of prison, Calvin teams up with his hapless accomplice Percy (Tracy Morgan) to steal a diamond from a jewelry store. In the course of their clumsy getaway, the gem winds up in the possession of an unsuspecting married couple, Darryl (Shawn Wayans) and Vanessa (the appealing Kerry Washington).
Darryl is eager to start a family with his wife, and Calvin, thinking quickly (which is to say, not at all), dresses himself up as a baby and has Percy leave him in a basket on the couple’s doorstep. Confused yet touched, Darryl and Vanessa decide to keep the foundling until they can get in touch with social services.
This immediately strains credibility, as the only plausible reaction to Calvin’s monstrously un-babylike appearance — as a result of some obvious visual effects work, Wayans’ face looks too big even as his head looks too small — is to laugh or recoil. (He’s about as convincing as the white chicks in “White Chicks,” the Wayanses’ previous feature.) As the “Baby Geniuses” pics have firmly established, there’s nothing remotely charming about the sight of tots talking, fighting or otherwise behaving like mini-adults, and “Little Man” takes the conceit to hideous extremes.
The film at least seems aware of how grotesque its central creation is, as evidenced by the reactions of Vanessa’s cranky, instantly suspicious dad (John Witherspoon), as well as Darryl and Vanessa’s friends — played by Alex Borstein, Fred Stoller, Brittany Daniel and Lochlyn Munro — who are barely able to conceal their revulsion. But not even Calvin’s tattoo, his knife scar or his very active libido convince his besotted new parents that something is wrong with their little bundle of joy.
Helmed by Keenen Ivory Wayans from a script he wrote with brothers Marlon and Shawn, the comedy hinges on Calvin being subjected to every possible indignity while also enjoying the benefits of his pampered new lifestyle. The recurring comic motif is sexual humiliation, with Calvin serving as both unwilling recipient (he’s probed by a rectal thermometer) and horny assailant (he gropes a woman bouncing him up and down in her lap). At one point, he crawls into bed with Ma-ma and Da-da, in a skin-crawling scene that invites the viewer to laugh at what amounts to a rape.
Mostly, though, the pic falls back far too often on Calvin’s propensity for violence, specifically his habit of punching those body parts within his reach. Brutal slapstick reaches an unfunny climax when a stereotypical Italian mobster (Chazz Palminteri) and his cronies force their way into Darryl’s home in search of the diamond, resulting in scenes that play like a wisely discarded alternate version of “Home Alone.”
Marlon Wayans accessorizes his weirdly committed performance as baby Calvin — all bug-eyed, lip-jutting facial expressions and nauseating goo-goo-gah-gahs — with an impressively embarrassing wardrobe of bonnets, bibs, beanies and booties courtesy of costume designer Jori Woodman.
Some additional levity is provided by the brief, isolated appearances of Molly Shannon and Rob Schneider (both “Saturday Night Live” alums, along with Morgan). Also worthy of mention is the sound design, which contains one of the most gurgly and grotesque renderings of gastrointestinal distress ever captured.