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Nearly 20 years ago, Keenan Ivory Wayans directed "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka;" a brutally funny, lighthearted spoof of blacksploitation films. Since then, his cinematic output has been on a downward slide, turning this once resourceful director into a hit factory, churning out comedies for the lowest common denominator. I'm sure it's fun to be a multi-millionaire, but whatever creativity and dignity Ivory Wayans had to offer the world in his youth is lost for good in "Little Man" to a series of crotch wallops and fart jokes.
It's a neat concept to paste Marlon Wayans's head on another actor's little body and have him run around the busy toddler world getting into mischief. There's just an endless supply of ideas to toy with there, but Ivory Wayans doesn't want to explore anything substantial. After an interesting start where the director tosses in some friendly faces (David Alan Grier and Kelly Coffield), and the fog of watching a mediocre special effect clears, "Man" has nowhere to go. This is where the Wayans Family recipe for cheap laughs clicks on.
By the time the 10th instance of genital trauma hits the screen, it's pretty obvious the Wayans aren't interested in something sublimely absurd here. There are some fun ideas: a sequence where Calvin starts a hockey riot is good for some laughs. I also enjoyed the antagonistic interplay between Marlon and John Witherspoon, playing Vanessa's suspicious father. "Man" also takes great delight in satirizing the staples of babydom (toys, singing dinosaur videos, psycho soccer mom drivers), but these moments flash by swiftly.
When "Man" finds itself backed into a corner of good taste, Ivory Wayans pulls out some bodily function humor to get the easy laugh. The director goes to this well far too often, slapping the viewer senseless with lowbrow gags that might tickle the undemanding (it's worked for the Wayans before), but ruins the experience for those who can see the premise is not meeting its full potential. Does the world need an oral sex joke involving a toddler, even one that's an imposter? And that's only a hint of the desperation that stinks up occasional sections of the film.
In the climax, "Little Man" takes a sharp turn to a very unexpected genre: the "Home Alone" rip-off. Calvin is soon dispatching thugs with toys and contraptions, taking "Man" the rest of the way in its thirst to become a full-on cartoon. Team Wayans had something with promise in "Little Man," but they're thinking too small these days in their pursuit of easy coin. Maybe one day this talented family will come out of their artistic huddle with material that once again matches their potential.