85-MINUTE MARTINIZING

It isn't often that I show any prescience, but I had a rare burst a couple of years ago, when I reviewed House Party 2, a Kid N Play vehicle. It was a mostly lousy little picture, and I said so, but I mentioned a grinning, rubber-faced kid named Martin Lawrence who had a supporting role. I said that his energy was the best element of the movie, and I closed the review by saying that he ought to have a movie of his own.

Evidently, Lawrence didn't need my endorsement--in the two years or so since House Party 2, he has become a TV star with a series on the Fox network, and played a supporting role in the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang. With You So Crazy, he makes his play for movie stardom, using the same format that finally made a big name out of Richard Pryor, after many dumb fictional comedies had failed to--the concert film.

You So Crazy is a record of Lawrence's standup act of the same title, as performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Majestic Theatre in April of last year. His routines cover such subjects as racism, the L.A. riots, prison life and growing up poor in a single-parent family. But he concentrates most intensely, and most raunchily, on those perennial standup favorites, sex and relationships.

Some of the material is forgettable, but some is sharp and fresh, and though at 85 minutes the film runs just a hair long, the direction, by Thomas Schlamme (So I Married an Axe Murderer), is marvelously fluid. It's Lawrence's performance, however, that keeps the film buoyant--he's infectiously energetic and cheery, and he has Pryor's gift for playing all the parts in sometimes quite complex scenes, through lightning-fast character switches.

This is not to say Lawrence is the new Pryor. Pryor, arguably the all-time greatest of standup comedians, was more than funny. Though he was always good company, he wasn't always comfortable company--he had a haunted intensity that was almost terrifying at times. Lawrence uses at least as much blue language as Pryor ever did (every eighth word seems to be "motherfucker"), and he describes sex acts at least as graphically. But while Pryor made us squirm at the rage under his language, Lawrence puts us at ease with his friskiness and self-deprecating good humor.

You So Crazy will probably be called misogynist, mostly by people who haven't seen it, but this is just an example of how male enthusiasm for sex is sometimes unfairly called misogyny. Lawrence prattles on about sex like an adolescent, but there's nothing hostile or suspicious in his attitude toward women. He does a short bit about how he wouldn't risk his life for his woman, which does seem rather callous, though it's probably only intended as comic cowardice.

Other than this brief lapse, however, he speaks of women only with fondness and sympathy. It's men, especially himself, of whom he makes sport, and it's men whom he repeatedly exhorts to mend their ways and learn to be friends with the women in their lives.

He begins his show with a routine about how women act as if he's "fine" now that he's rich, but his cynicism isn't ugly or bitter. When Eddie Murphy covered this same turf in his concert movie Eddie Murphy Raw, the message was: Women are gold diggers. With Lawrence, the message is: See, money can even make a stooge like me look good.

Such subtleties are, of course, lost on the ratings board. You So Crazy's vulgarity proved too much for its delicate sensibilities--it wanted to give the film an NC-17. The original distributor, Miramax, dropped the film, probably because it's now under the aegis of Disney, and releasing an adults-only feature might make Walt rise from the grave to seek revenge. It was then picked up by Goldwyn, which released it without a rating, gloriously uncut.

Working together, Miramax and the ratings board have revealed a rich vein of hypocrisy. The box-office smash of the last couple of weeks has been The Crow, a film in which the hero--the hero, mind you, not the villain--commits a string of hideously brutal revenge killings. The ratings board gave it an R, and guess who released it--Miramax. Evidently, seeing this sort of behavior poses less of a threat to our country's youth than seeing one little guy prance around a stage, indulging in mischievous schoolboy sex talk.

I'm not saying that You So Crazy is suitable fare for kids. But I do think it says something about our values as a society that The Crow is seen, however marginally, as more suitable. Just as Lawrence's more or less innocent lewdness can be mistaken for evil, so prudery can be mistaken for morality.

 
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