Wayans' 'Blankman' has fun mixing Gump and urban crime

August 20, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Give Damon Wayans credit: Whatever his sins, vanity is not one of them. Achieving star status in "The Last Boy Scout," he didn't use it to spotlight himself as the world's coolest dude. Instead, as in "Mo' Money" and now in "Blankman," he's chosen to play nerds.

"Blankman" is, in fact, a kind of "Revenge of the Nerds V: The Superhero Who Couldn't Fly -- or Even Catch the Bus." It follows as a hopelessly uncool, unhip, unsuave young man manages to triumph over all -- in his underwear, it is true, but a triumph none the less.

The film, which Wayans conceived and co-wrote (with J. F. Lawton; Mike Binder directed), is somewhat of a shambles but now and then piercingly funny. The best thing about it is Wayans giving it up entirely in service to Darryl Walker, A K A Blankman, the superhero with a blanket for a cape and a pair of jockey shorts.

Darryl, whose urban neighborhood has turned into a crack-'n-crime paradise, not that he's even noticed, works in an appliance repair store. But his true calling is for gadgets, and the movie loves to have fun with the outlandish gizmos that his very special mind is able to create. None of them work, quite, and they all look like they were done by a Mattel Academy drop-out.

The plot is clunky, junky, cranky, dopey, sneezy and grumpy -- but not Doc. Darryl lives in innocence with his brother Kevin (David Alan Grier) and their grandmother (Lynn Thigpen), who works for a reform mayoral candidate. When the thugs kill Grandma (discreetly, by the way), it appeals to Darryl's childish mind to re-invent himself as a crime fighter, to the horror of his much cooler brother but to the ultimate endearment of a beautiful TV reporter (Robin Givens).

Much of it is predictable. Like some kind of urban, black Forrest Gump, Blankman bumbles into situations where he's hopelessly overmatched, yet his very innocence proves his most potent weapon; things just sort of turn out. He bests a dope dealer, a passel of bank robbers and, ultimately, the gangster who is terrorizing the city, all with the expression on his face that suggests he has just licked a piece of dry ice. As the insightful Mr. Gump has been known to remark, stupid is as stupid does.

The film has one inspired scene which I defy any human male to see without breaking up. Grier has been given a belt-buckle radio by his brother, but to speak into the microphone he has to bend over quite far. When Givens, upon whom he has romantic designs, comes across him, she believes he's addressing something other than a mere electronic tool.

Would that the rest of "Blankman" were up to this level of pure inspiration. Alas, it is not so. The movie transpires pretty much at the cartoon level, being in its heart of hearts a down-home, funky-town parody of "Batman," done on one-hundredth the budget.

The bad guy, Chicago gangster Mike Minelli, is played by Jon Polito with that trademark pencil stroke mustache and a vocal volume that would put Wurlitzer to shame and quickly grows tiresome and Peter Lawford's son Chris has a wan turn as a reformist politician.

Grier is much better here than as the meek dentist in "In the Army Now." They actually give him something to do besides whimper; he gets to beat a few guys up. That's probably a good career move. As for Givens: beauty is as beauty does.

'Blankman'

Starring Damon Wayans and Robin Givens

Directed by Mike Binder

Released by Columbia

Rated R

** 1/2

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