Film critics have a reputation for being mean, but it’s not really true. Not in all cases at least. The fact is that many of us can be incredibly sympathetic at times. For example, take the case of me reviewing Marci X. Yahoo Movies writer Greg Dean Schmitz – who is also a colleague of mine in the Online Film Critics Society – reports that the movie completed shooting in July 2001. It then sat on a shelf until May 2002, at which time the ending was reshot. Then it sat for another year before being dumped unceremoniously into a dead-end slot in late August. Paramount gave it little advertising and refused to show it in advance to critics; instead they quietly slid it onto 1,200 screens nationwide. By the admission of studio spokespeople, the only reason for releasing the movie at all was to build recognition for the eventual video release. In its opening weekend, Marci X took in a pathetic $865,000. (In contrast, the much-maligned Gigli did over $3 million in its opening frame.)
With such apathy, it would have been easy for me to skip reviewing this film altogether. After all, no one cared, right? I couldn’t do that, though. When I heard how poorly it had done, I knew I had to go see Marci X. Why? Because I actually felt sorry for it. So many talented people had worked on the movie. I figured that somebody had to show up, and it might as well be me. So I purchased a ticket (well, I get in for free, but the intentions were there). The girl at the box office actually looked surprised that someone had actually come to see this picture. There is a very nice older gentleman who rips tickets at my local cinema. He and I often talk about the movies playing. “We’re not selling too many tickets for this one,” he confessed. And he was right. I sat completely, utterly alone in the theater. But hey - I was there!
If you are reading this review, I assume that you care about this movie at some level. At least you care enough about it to read what I have to say. That makes me feel a little better, especially since Marci X is not a horrible movie, despite its painful path to theaters. Flawed, yes – but not horrible.
Lisa Kudrow plays Marci Feld, a young Jewish woman whose father is a media tycoon. A right-wing politician (Christine Baranski) is organizing a boycott of everything owned by the Feld family because they own a rap music label that has just released a CD by gangsta rapper Dr. S (Damon Wayans). His offensive music – which includes a song about shooting teachers – is raising her ire, so she wants to get it banned. Clearly, this plot is based on the whole Ice T/”Cop Killer” brouhaha that made headlines a decade or so ago. Okay, so this movie’s at least ten years out of date. Great. Marci decides to take matters into her own hands, which means befriending Dr. S and convincing him to renounce his lyrics. And, oh yeah, along the way they fall in love.
There are two fundamental problems with Marci X. The first is the obvious fact that no one associated with this movie knows anything about rap music. The portrayal of the rap scene is so laughably out-of-touch that it’s almost sad. For example, the songs that Dr. S performs are surprisingly profanity-free. My wife is a massive rap fan, so I hear all the popular songs. The word “fuck” does not appear in a single Dr. S song; in a real rap song, it’s used constantly. Dr. S’s most controversial song is called “Power in My Pants.” Not exactly shocking stuff. Apparently the filmmakers have never heard Fabolous’s “Bad Bitch” or Ja Rule’s “Down Ass Bitch” or Jay-Z’s “Fuck All Nite” (or “Money, Cash, Hoes” for that matter.) They do not know that Ludacris has a song called “Move, Bitch” or that 50 Cent has one called “High All the Time.” They would be shocked to hear R. Kelly’s “I Like the Crotch on You.” The rap music Dr. S sings is like a Sesame Street version of gangsta rap. Because it feels so non-authentic, the movie always seems somewhat clueless about the very things it’s satirizing. It certainly doesn’t help that the film was directed by Richard Benjamin, a filmmaker who is older and probably only knows about rap music what his grandchildren have told him. Imagine what a younger, hipper director might have done with this material. (Where are Brett Ratner and F. Gary Gray when you need them?)
The other problem goes hand-in-hand. Damon Wayans is miscast as a rapper. He plays the role as a caricature, as though he were on an “In Living Color” sketch. He’s about as real a rapper as Vanilla Ice was. Real gangsta rappers project danger, or at least mild menace. They have an inner rage that is expressed though wordplay. Dr. S is clearly a wimp with little verbiage. Again, more authenticity would have made a huge difference. With so many real rappers – from Snoop Dogg to DMX – appearing in movies, there were better choices for this role. Hell, even I could have played a more effective gangsta rapper than Damon Wayans does here.
These are basic level problems that the movie could never surmount. That said, there are still an admirable number of laughs in Marci X. The screenplay is by the acerbic writer Paul Rudnick, who also wrote In & Out as well as many well-regarded plays. His script has some lines of dialogue that are real doozies, full of the bite that marks all his work. My favorite line comes when the ultra-conservative politician says: “There are millions of people just like me. It’s called Utah.” That’s funny stuff. So is the movie’s boy band parody, which takes homoeroticism to a new level. There’s even a minor character – a singer named Yolanda Quinones - who bears a striking resemblance to a certain bootylicious Latin-American superstar.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of good stuff in the margins of this movie: the dialogue is sharp, Lisa Kudrow is terrific, the supporting cast is solid. These things put a smile on my face more than once as I sat in that empty theater. Marci X doesn’t know jack about the rap music scene, though, and that problem proves to be its undoing. I can’t quite recommend the film for that reason, but I admit feeling a bit of affection for it. This picture doesn’t deserve to be a blockbuster, but it doesn’t deserve to be the runt of the summer’s movies either.
( 1/2 out of four)
Marci X is rated R for language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.
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