Malibu’s Most Wanted flirts with incisive, witty segments, but it’s ultimately yet another anti-inflammatory comedy about racial identity that devolves into a one-joke comedy.
Best when it’s raging against the stereotypes, the movie ultimately rolls with them and loses the chuckle-worthy momentum it’s built to that point. The movie goes soft, aiming for wide-ranging demographic targets rather than specific satiric ones.
Between this, Head of State and Bringing Down the House, theaters are flooded with comedies about race. They’ve brought back respectable box-office returns, but in terms of provocative content, they’re being outdone on the small screen by comedians like Dave Chappelle.
Bill Gluckman (Ryan O’Neal, looking as though he’s fighting off an aneurysm) is running for governor of California and has a good campaign, except when his son Brad (Jamie Kennedy) is trying to help.
B-Rad, as he calls himself, drives an Escalade with insane hydraulics, boasts plenty of bling-bling and has recorded a rap album called Malibootay. The problem for Bill and his managers is that B-Rad is a lily-white kid from Malibu and, thus, his gangster boasts embarrass the campaign.
To “scare the Black out of him,” Black actors Sean and P.J. (Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson) are hired to car-jack B-Rad and take him on a “real” tour of the ghetto. Both B-Rad and the actors get much more than they bargained for when they end up in the middle of a furious gang war.
The parts of the movie that work do so in spite of its annoying lead character. B-Rad is funny for about two minutes before it becomes clear it’s a one-trick pony with a catchphrase (“Don’t be hatin’ ”). Considering Kennedy is a co-writer (and B-Rad based on a character on his TV show The Jamie Kennedy Experiment), his lack of animation is surprising.
As the trained thespians work up their best imitations, the movie finds its brightest spark. When Sean asks P.J. if he buys his rage, P.J. tells him he senses he’s “indicating.”
Diggs shows a surprising flair for comedy and plays well with the typically reliable Anderson. And because these aren’t just another batch of white characters with preconceived notions about the inner city, it works remarkably. This line of humor builds to a simple, understated joke as insightful as it is funny.
The movie falls apart when it falls back, though, on tired stereotypes, such as the armed-to-the-teeth Korean convenience store worker. And are we supposed to buy that B-Rad truly loves Black culture because he’s accepted by a gang and unloads a pair of Uzis in the midst of a gunfight?
A better, more thoughtful comedy could still be laughable while resolving these plot points with acidic satire. Malibu’s Most Wanted junks that idea in favor of a quick, sit-com style ending that is like slamming a car into a brick wall to make it stop.