×

Major Payne

The private war of Maj. Benson Payne (Damon Wayans) is that he's a modern-day military anachronism. A natural born killing machine, his pleasure in an era bereft of enemies is a pain to the Marine Corps.

With:
Major Benson Payne - Damon Wayans Dr. Emily Walburn - Karyn Parsons Dr. Phillip - Bill Hickey Lt. Colonel Stone - Michael Ironside General Elias Decker - Albert Hall Cadet Alex Stone - Steven Martini Cadet Tiger Dane - Orlando Brown Cadet Dotson - Andrew Harrison Leeds Cadet Bryan - Joda Blare-Hershman Cadet Williams - Damien Wayans Cadet Heathcoat - R. Stephen Wiles

The private war of Maj. Benson Payne (Damon Wayans) is that he’s a modern-day military anachronism. A natural born killing machine, his pleasure in an era bereft of enemies is a pain to the Marine Corps.

“Major Payne,” the movie, is also a bit of a throwback. It’s what is sometimes called a “warmedy,” a cuddly comedy in which a crotchety hero sees the light by rubbing shoulders with humanity. It’s relatively foolproof light entertainment, undone only when it strays too far into the absurd or wears the mantle of Wayans’ comedy persona.

As such, pic is decent programmer fare with family appeal. Domestic theatrical prospects are good, with an upbeat back end in video and cable.

Having done too good a job in making the world safe for democracy and deemed unsuitable for a tour of duty behind a desk, Payne is thrust into civilian life. His combat-zone mentality clashes with polite society. But an old colleague finally steps forward with an offer to command some raw recruits — who happen to be aged 6 to 16.

Unlike its movie inspiration — 1955-vintage “The Private War of Major Benson ,” with Charlton Heston — the new outing presents Payne as a naif, seemingly unaware of a world that includes children, ROTC or virtually anything unrelated to mortal combat. Discipline, duty and honor form his code of honor, and those who bridle at its dictums are summarily punished.

The clash of hard-nosed Marine training and youthful antics are the grist of the film’s comedy. Each has its place, but even Payne discovers that his steely stance can be dented by a smile from a cute, pint-sized cadet. Ultimately, both sides bend in order to effect a strong showing in the annual Virginia ROTC games.

Wayans remains an odd choice for family-film stardom. His rude brand of humor is largely muted here, and when he slyly reveals it, the effect is jarring. Also grating is his choice to sport several gold teeth and assume an awkward pose that strains at the credulity of his romance with a school doctor (Karyn Parsons).

His bad-news troopers acquit themselves well despite their multi-ethnic, politically correct composition.

“Major Payne’s” writers (including Wayans) and director Nick Castle wisely do not tamper much with the pic’s essential strength — its core idea. They also nicely sidestep the pothole of overplaying its sentimentality.

One can argue that the film is painless, or that it should be Wayansless. It certainly has spit and polish and runs through its drill with admirable precision. More than that would be pushing the envelope.

Major Payne

Production: A Universal release of a Wife 'n Kids production. Produced by Eric L. Gold, Michael Rachmil. Executive producers, Damon Wayans, Harry Tatelman. Co-producer, Tracy Carness. Directed by Nick Castle. Screenplay, Dean Lorey, Wayans, Gary Rosen, based on a story by Joe Connelly, Bob Mosher and a screenplay by William Roberts, Richard Alan Simmons.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Richard Bowen; editor, Patrick Kennedy; music, Craig Safan; production design, Peter Larkin; art direction, David Crank; set decoration, James V. Kent; costume design, Jennifer L. Bryan; sound (DTS), Rosa Howell-Thornhill; military advisers, 1st Sgt. Leslie Speight, Lt. C. David Richards; assistant director, Hope Goodwin; casting, Aleta Chappelle. Reviewed at Avco Cinema, L.A., March 11, 1995. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 97 min.

With: Major Benson Payne - Damon Wayans Dr. Emily Walburn - Karyn Parsons Dr. Phillip - Bill Hickey Lt. Colonel Stone - Michael Ironside General Elias Decker - Albert Hall Cadet Alex Stone - Steven Martini Cadet Tiger Dane - Orlando Brown Cadet Dotson - Andrew Harrison Leeds Cadet Bryan - Joda Blare-Hershman Cadet Williams - Damien Wayans Cadet Heathcoat - R. Stephen Wiles

More Film

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    2018 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Winners

    Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. are meeting today to vote on the year’s best cinema accomplishments. Recent winners of the group’s top prize include “Call Me by Your Name,” “Moonlight,” “Spotlight,” “Boyhood,” “Her”/”Gravity” and “Amour.” List of winners below. Check back throughout the morning for updates. Best Film: Best Director: Best Actor: More [...]

  • Ralph Breaks the Internet

    Box Office: 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' Narrowly Defeats 'Grinch' in Sleepy Pre-Holiday Weekend

    Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” topped a quiet weekend at the domestic box office, marking the third straight win for the animated sequel. It earned $16.2 million in its third week of release, generating $140 million since it opened over Thanksgiving. Another cartooned adventure almost gave “Ralph” a run for its money. Illumination and Universal’s [...]

  • John KrasinskiVariety Actors on Actors, Day

    John Krasinski on 'A Quiet Place': Casting A Deaf Actress Was 'Non-Negotiable'

    John Krasinski’s debut feature “A Quiet Place” tells the story of a family with a deaf child, and the “Jack Ryan” star wanted to make sure he included a deaf actor in the film. “It was a non-negotiable thing for me,” Krasinski told Rosamund Pike of the casting during their conversation for Variety‘s “Actors on [...]

  • Rosamund Pike John Krasinski

    John Krasinski and Rosamond Pike on Vulnerability and Decompressing After Tense Scenes

    John Krasinski and Rosamund Pike sat down for a conversation for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.  In “Gone Girl,” Rosamund Pike proved she could put herself through anything. The British actress, a well-loved supporting player in “Pride & Prejudice” and “An Education,” took the lead and scored her first Oscar nomination. Four years later, [...]

  • Aquaman

    'Aquaman' Rules Overseas Box Office With $94 Million in China

    “Aquaman” launched with a massive $93.6 million in China, marking the best start for a Warner Bros. title in that territory. The superhero adventure — directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa as the king of the seven seas — isn’t opening in North America for another two weeks, but the studio wanted to [...]

  • (L to R) MAHERSHALA ALI and

    Scores from 'Green Book,' 'Solo,' Others Disqualified from Oscar Race (EXCLUSIVE)

    First-round voting is underway for Oscar’s Original Song and Original Score categories, but Academy music-branch voters are discovering that four talked-about scores are missing from the eligibility list. Music for “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Green Book,” “Mandy” and “The Other Side of the Wind” has been disqualified for various reasons, Variety has learned. More [...]

  • Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson appear

    'Minding the Gap' Wins Top Award From International Documentary Association

    Bing Liu’s skateboarding movie “Minding The Gap” has won the International Documentary Association’s award for top feature of 2018. Floyd Russ’s “Zion” was awarded best short. Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” won for best limited series and HBO’s “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” took the ABC News VideoSource Award. PBS’ “POV” won for best curated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content