THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Saturday, April 1, 1995 TAG: 9503310086 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E3 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 71 lines
THERE ARE hints in ``Major Payne'' that Damon Wayans is a funny person. These are only hints, however. The aptly titled ``Major Payne'' spends much of its time tormenting, threatening and verbally abusing children. In its very first scene, the title character breaks the finger of a fellow adult soldier. His reasoning is that this will take the man's mind off the fact that his arm has been shot off.
This is a comedy?
Not only is it being pushed as a comedy, it's also targeted at the family audience.
Anyone who saw Wayans on TV's ``In Living Color'' knows he is a very funny and sometimes sophisticated comic. He's having trouble, though, creating a film career. Last year's ``Blankman,'' about a superhero with no super powers, flopped miserably after it delivered precious few laughs.
Wayans is playing a part originally created by Charlton Heston. ``Major Payne'' is based on the 1955 comedy ``The Private War of Major Benson'' in which Heston played a hard-boiled military man who is eventually softened when he is forced to teach a bunch of kids at a military school. It was nominated for an Academy Award for its script. There are not likely to be any nominations for this version, which makes the major meaner while it eliminates the children almost altogether.
Wayans does create a comic figure in the overly macho and killing-obsessed Major Benson Payne. He lives to fight wars. He's dismayed when he's assigned to a Virginia military school to teach ROTC. (The film was shot almost entirely at the Miller School in Charlottesville.) Flashing a gold tooth, Major Payne vows to toughen up his charges.
The jokes are tasteless. When Payne finds he has a hearing-impaired boy in his class, he screams that the boy must be the son of Marlee Matlin. The kids strike back by giving the major a super laxative in his breakfast cupcake. There are ample bathroom and flatulence jokes.
Strangely, the ROTC class ranges in age from 6 to 16. It is made up of all the usual stereotypes - the nerd, the fat boy, the potential leader. The plot eventually settles down to the usual movie theory that achievement is judged by sporting events. As in ``Little Giants,'' ``The Sandlot,'' ``The Mighty Ducks'' and a dozen other such films, it is suggested that even the most hopeless outsiders can prove their worth by working out and winning an athletic game. Here it is called the ``Virginia Military Games.''
Along the way, there is also a fleeting, unexplainable romance for Payne with Karyn Parsons.
The movies have yet to utilize the writing and performing talents that were evident from Damon Wayans on ``In Living Color.'' ILLUSTRATION: UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Damon Wayans, from ``In Living Color,'' stars in the tasteless
Cast: Damon Wayans, Karyn Parsons, Bill Hickey, Michael Ironside
Director: Nick Castle
Screenplay: Dean Lorey, Damon Wayans, Gary Rosen
Music: Craig Safan
MPAA rating: PG-13 (toilet jokes, flatulence jokes)
Mal's rating: *1/2
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