An endless torrent of vile language ruins 'You So Crazy'

April 27, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

It seems so simple, doesn't it? You find an exquisitely gifted stand-up comedian at the peak of his powers and you surround him with cameras and you capture his performance and then you knit the angles together and control the rhythms and just let it ride his talent until it explodes.

It worked in "Lenny Bruce in Concert." It worked in "Richard Pryor, Live on the Sunset Strip."

It worked in "Raw," with Eddie Murphy.

Why doesn't it work with Martin Lawrence in "You So Crazy," a filmed record of a 1993 Lawrence concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, directed by Thomas Schlamme?

Here's why. Say the word M-----f-----. Feel the terrible magic, the quiver of fear and horror and yet humor that it evokes. Listen to the voodoo hoodoo with you. Boomlay boomlay boomlay BOOM! How powerful is profanity, as even Margaret Mitchell knew when she had Rhett say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Now take that dangerous M word . . . and say it 500 times!

Make it a noun. Make it a verb. Make it an adjective. Make it a whole sentence. Make it a whole language, for crying out loud.

Knit its syllables around your tongue like the oozy weeds that about Billy Budd twisted. Honk it, snort it, shoot it, eat it. Bark it, bite it.

With each repetition, it loses a mote of meaning, a whisper of danger, until it becomes meaningless. You think, Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

So dense with corrosive language is "You So Crazy," so torrential is its assault on the ear, that it soon comes to sound like droning: It goes on and on and on, endlessly. I lasted an hour.

The Motion Picture Association of America lasted not even that long, giving the film an NP-17 rating and causing its original distributors to drop it. Now Goldwyn, a non-signatory to the MPAA pact, is releasing it sans the rating. Why? Why ask why?

Lawrence is randomly funny, but he's much funnier acting on TV than he is doing stand-up, which is a different thing entirely. He doesn't seem to understand that which Bruce and Pryor knew instinctively and that Murphy, for his part, only guessed at: that

stand-up, far from being static as its name implies, is just as narrative a form as any book beginning with a line like "Robert Jordan lay on the pine needles."

It must build, increment by increment, and draw you into its maker's center through a variety of tones: now raucously funny, now touching, now bittersweet, now explosive with anger, the laughs constructed brilliantly to feed on each other.

Lawrence has no such luck. In a black leather hospital intern's suit with Corcoran jump boots on, he struts around a stage that looks like the set of a road production of "West Side Story" and does riffs that usually turn on the word m-----f----- for their punch line.

His disquisitions on masturbation, female hygiene (it got him disinvited from "Saturday Night Live"), racism are all pretty standard issue stuff. He's not dangerous, like Pryor and Bruce. His autobiography ought to be titled, "How to Talk Dirty and Influence Nobody."

"You So Crazy"

Starring Martin Lawrence

Directed by Thomas Schlamme

Released by Goldwyn


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