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White Chicks   F

Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Writers: Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Andy McElfresh, Michael Anthony Snowden, Xavier Cook
Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Jaime King, Frankie Faison, Lochlyn Munro, John Heard, Busy Philipps, Terry Crews.

Review by Rob Vaux

Movies are supposed to take you on a journey, and White Chicks certainly succeeds in that regard. It goes places... bad places. Creepy, skin-crawling, "no, mommy, not the clown suit" places. Places that chew at the subconscious and lurk in the hidden recesses of nightmare. The premise of dressing up a pair of Wayans brothers as spoiled Paris Hilton clones is stunningly unfunny as is, but director Keenen Ivory Wayans boldly reaches beyond the merely incompetent into something truly loathsome.

Clearly, the model for this project was Eddie Murphy, who could vanish into wondrous comedic disguises through the use of prosthetics. His gaggle of Klumps from the Nutty Professor movies are the most prominent examples, but the technique goes all the way back to Saturday Night Live, where a memorable sketch transformed him into an uptight Anglo businessman named Mr. White. Murphy, however, was as much actor as comedian, and had the chops to pull off such thespian acrobatics. He also knew where the line was, and when the gimmick overshadowed the humor it was intended to facilitate. Such niceties are lost on White Chicks. The transformation is the sole purpose of the exercise, and while its ambition exceeds even Murphy's ("black men as white girls" is a pretty tall order), the actors called upon to meet the challenge are exponentially less gifted than he.

Simply put, stars Shawn and Marlon Wayans never sell us on the guys-in-drag concept, relying instead on goonish flailing and limp one-liners rendered in a uniform falsetto that third-graders could deliver with more wit. The flimsiness of their disguise is presumably part of the joke, but rarely have such obvious intentions achieved a staler or more inert result. White Chicks does the expected amount of contorting to set up the situation (they're FBI agents out to bust a kidnapping by posing as the victims), then regurgitates a calcified array of gags involving gender confusion, social elitism, and the ever-popular horny male suitor (Terry Crews, deserving better) who won't take no for an answer. When even these whiskered gallstones start to run short, the film turns to gross-out material to fill in the gaps -- the timing of which is so bungled as to remove the humor and leave only sphincter-puckering cringes in its place. Occasionally, it turns cruel, unleashing nasty barbs no doubt excused away as "bold" or "daring" in the script meetings. A stronger film may have succeeded with them, but here, elements such as a pro athlete attempting to drug his intended paramour or high-society girls hurling passive-aggressive bigotry at their Latino concierge spark nothing but appalled disbelief.

And yet these are all just trappings on the tree. The real abomination is the basic idea itself... or rather, just how horrifying it comes across on-screen. The sight of the two Wayans in dresses, heels, and blonde wigs -- caked with pod-person prosthetics that reduce their features to alien waxiness -- is neither amusing nor watchable. They flounce through the scenery like blow-up dolls come to unholy life, as their costars feign normality in the face of figures who defy all notions of a benign universe. We are expected to go along, despite the fundaments of the soul that instinctively rebel against it. It's unwholesome. It's a clammy hand on the back of the neck. It's wrong in the same way that sex fantasies about Mother Teresa are wrong, and White Chicks subjects us to it for 100 merciless minutes. The embalmed punchlines, flat satire, and lazy screenplay (penned by the three Wayans and a bevy of apparent well-wishers) pale before the fact that what this movie wants most to show us is something that any right-thinking person would have quarantined before it infected the children. Men-as-women is a timeworn comedic trope -- and has produced more than its share of disasters -- but this may represent an unheralded new low. White Chicks will send you running for the bathroom, praying that the dirt will somehow come off.

Review published 06.23.2004.

* * *

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