What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

"I stole from the burglar -- how could you not see the humor in that?"

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? sneaks up on you. It starts out direly, then unexpectedly gains momentum, finally surviving on the charisma of star Martin Lawrence and the experience of co-star Danny De Vito. There’s nothing brilliant here, but enough funny throwaway gags for the film to just squeak by and pass itself off as “entertaining.” It strings together conventions in an amusing way. Perhaps the best praise I can give this movie is that I was rarely bored.

Martin Lawrence, who has starred as a criminal in four out of his last five movies, plays Kevin Caffrey, a professional thief. He and his partner-in-crime, played by John Leguizamo, rob a house owned by Max Fairbanks (Danny De Vito). Fairbanks was ordered to stay away from the mansion by a bankrupcy judge, but, never one to obey something as frivolous as a court order, he goes there anyway with his Playboy centerfold girl-toy. He catches Caffrey red-handed and, as the thief is being handcuffed by the police, he steals Caffrey’s lucky ring simply by saying that it’s his. It’s the millionaire’s word against the crook’s, and who’s kidding who?

Caffrey will do anything to get his ring back, but Fairbanks is convinced that, since the ring coincidentally has his company’s old logo on it, it’s his lucky ring. Bernie Mac plays the stolen goods dealer who tries to help him. Wildly inconsistent chaos ensues.

Lawrence is an extremely talented comedian, who has risen above his material and rescued his films from the gutter on many occasions. But he can’t seem to carry this one, which may explain why the opening scenes have a clunky feel. Whenever he is on screen by himself or with his love interest, the movie up and dies. But whenever De Vito, Bernie Mac or William Fichtner are on screen — the latter hysterical as slightly feminine detective Alex Tardio — What’s the Worst That Could Happen? suddenly picks up steam.

Perhaps this is because Kevin Caffrey isn’t a terribly interesting character. He’s the stereotypical “thief with a conscience” that we always see in sappy movies like this; he falls in love with a girl who thinks that he is a “businessman” and swears to reform, but something happens and he has to continue on his less-than-righteous path. That’s really all there is to him, which isn’t much to laugh at.

The point at which I realized that I was enjoying myself came when Max Fairbanks was testifying before Congress. Provoked, he suddenly starts spouting profanities at the distinguished lawmakers. A dumber movie would have left it at that — look, he’s cursing at stiff high-class types! — but What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, in what may have been its single stroke of near-brilliance, also includes a sign-language interpreter who gets a little carried away. That’s Stephanie Clayman, by the way, as the iterpreter; I’ve never seen her before, but will look for her in the future.

What can I say about a movie like this? It’s not inspired, it’s not consistent, it’s doesn’t have a terribly good script. But it’s well-acted, it has some good gags, and it held my attention for 97 minutes. I can’t ask much more of a movie from which I expected so much less.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Score: C

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Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

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Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

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