It would be easier to dismiss "Little Man" as simple summer junk if it weren't co-written and directed by the head of the performing Wayans clan, Keenen Ivory Wayans. Once a writer-performer-producer of enormous gifts, Wayans was a pivotal figure in what was called the Black New Wave of the late '80s and early '90s, both for collaborating on Robert Townsend's stereotype-busting "The Hollywood Shuffle" (1987) and for creating and producing "In Living Color," the first sketch comedy TV program to consistently reflect an African-American point of view. Wayans' TV work made stars of Jim Carrey, his brother Damon and David Alan Grier, and introduced hip-hop culture into American living rooms via the street-dancing Fly Girls (Jennifer Lopez is an alum). More importantly, Wayans took the satiric tools that had been forged on television by Lorne Michaels and in performance by the guerilla stand-up work of Richard Pryor and created a satiric voice that was not only funny but visionary and persuasive -- and sometimes brave besides.
The only thing brave about "Little Man" is that it has the nerve to ask moviegoers to fork out 10 bucks to see it. Twenty years on, Keenen Ivory Wayans is a successful Hollywood moviemaker who seems mainly concerned with never directing a picture with a concept that takes more than a sentence to describe, and who always and without exception requires a member of his immediate family (or two) as his star.
Last time Wayans directed for the bigscreen, he made "White Chicks," a cross-racial "Some Like It Hot" starring the Kid 'N Play of the Wayans clan, younger siblings Shawn and Marlon, aka the Wayans Brothers. With "Little Man," the Wayans Brothers ride again, leading the audience to a destination of even lower expectations. At least "White Chicks" had a premise that could be described as half-audacious: Dressing a pair of black male actors as blonde sorority girls gave the picture an overt racial frisson that echoed older, bolder work though without the same reverberations. By contrast, "Little Man" is just hackneyed and paceless slapstick, broken up every three scenes or so by the need of the modern Hollywood comedy to mechanically create fake emotion and ersatz character development in the same way that a random number generator creates occasional sevens and fours. The Wayans Brothers are, as ever, unequal as co-equal leads, with Shawn affable but uninteresting to watch, while the more gifted but in this case purely superimposed Marlon might be funnier if he didn't seem to always be staring not at the other actors' faces but at something embedded somewhere in the middle of their heads. Starring Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington. Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans. Written by Keenen Ivory Wayans & Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans. Produced by Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez and Lee R. Mayes. A Universal release. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor throughout, language and brief drug references. Running time: 97 min