What could have been a wily satire on contempo racial politics and culture, “Malibu’s Most Wanted” ultimately implodes, letting down the ‘hood, hip-hoppers and Jamie Kennedy fans looking forward to his first major starring role. Based on the character of Brad “B-Rad” Gluckman developed for his tube comedy series, “JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” pic is about a PCH-based white boy so deep into rap he can’t stop behaving like one of the homies. Although it’s never more than silly, there are enough caustic observations and keenly timed scenes in the early going to raise hopes this will go beyond the muddled multi-racial bags of both “Bringing Down the House” and “Head of State.” Comic failings and lack of major hip-hop stars will mute overall B.O.; the question remains, however, whether Kennedy’s lampoon will be embraced or scorned by African-American auds.
During its first hour, pic generally holds together, introducing B-Rad as a self-imagined “player” cruising with his well-financed but ludicrous “crew” while rapping about the “street life” of Malibu, as well as his clash with his father and California gubernatorial candidate (Ryan O’Neal) whose campaign can’t handle his rapping child, and the subsequent plot to “scare the black” out of B-Rad by staging a mock-kidnapping in the ghetto.
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On this thin string of a situation, Kennedy and his collaborators, including helmer John Whitesell, hang all sorts of pointed topics, from the goofy way hip-hop is translated by white suburbanites and the parallels between bare-knuckled political campaigning and gang-banging, to the pattern of whites wanting to be black — like B-Rad — and blacks wanting to be white — like his hired kidnappers, classically trained thesps Sean (Taye Diggs) and PJ (Anthony Anderson). The two actors-turned-kidnappers rehearse their roles as tough street hoods with all the diligence of Actors Studio students.
Trying to tie all of this up into a neat package, complete with de rigeur homilies about how B-Rad needs to be true to himself, proves the film’s undoing. Befriended by Sean’s cousin Shondra (Regina Hall), who had been hired at first to help in the kidnapping, B-Rad gets involved with genuine gangsta Tec (Damien Dante Wayans). He even leads the charge during a gun battle with Tec’s foes. But, because B-Rad is more of a satirical symbol than a full-fledged character, his fuzzy turns and transformations eventually make little sense and deliver even fewer laughs.
Kennedy’s shtick also begins to wear at the hour point, by which time B-Rad has pretty much used up all of his unselfconscious charm. In fact, though the exhibition business won’t allow for the kind of hourlong comedies that were a staple during the silent era, “Malibu’s Most Wanted” would have fit better under that constriction.
Anderson and Diggs use their stored-up knowledge of thesps to make delicious mincemeat of them here, while Hall, Underwood, Wayans and O’Neal take their roles seriously enough to keep their satiric contributions on track.
Snoop Dogg, whose personal lingo clearly inspired much of B-Rad’s own, does the funny voice of a rat that has advice for our young hero.
Tech work is better than most recent low-to-mid-budget studio comedies.