February 28, 2008

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Witless Protection (PG-13)
Larry the Cable Guy speaks in Bushisms and protects a snooty witness from evil-doers in Witless Protection, a movie that is so bodily-function-besotted in its approach to humor that it tricks you into looking for subtext.

A movie can’t be this superficial, I think. Why does he instantly paint the overly made-up federal witness as a liberal? What does his labeling of a pushy woman in a higher social class as a liberal say about the tensions between blue collar and plush collar in America? Why is a comedian who is obviously smart enough to conquer branding (Larry the Cable Guy didn’t, as a marketable character, create itself) seemingly insistent on elevating dumbness? Why does the caricature of high culture seem more vicious than the caricature of blue-collar culture? Is this another example of socioeconomic tensions? Why does Peter Stormare (best known as John Abruzzi on Prison Break) have such a godawful British accent? It sounds like he’s trying to keep from swallowing marbles. Does that have some deeper meaning?

Even now I have a hard time believing that all that burping and bad-accent-having is just the sign of a lackluster comedy, not some deeper social commentary.

Deputy Larry (Larry the Cable Guy) is the second fiddle in a small town but he dreams of climbing higher law enforcement mountains, maybe even scaling to the top of the F.B.I. When he spots a gussied-up Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic) at his local diner being pushed around by Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) and a group of black-suited men, he thinks he’s found a damsel in distress and a possible case that will launch him into the big time. He helps her “escape” from her “kidnappers” only to be told that she’s a federal witness and he’s just kidnapped her from her F.B.I. protectors. Larry’s about to hand her back when his Cable Guy sense tells him something with Alonzo and crew isn’t right — this wannabe G-Man knows procedure and Alonzo just isn’t following the rules. Larry suspects that he might be working with Arthur Grimsley (Stormare), the British (or something) corporate baddie Madeleine is meant to testify against.

For some down-home sexy the movie adds in a Larry-loving waitress played by Jenny McCarthy and for some heart it gives the at-odds Larry and Madeleine some “moments.” The movie is a rat’s nest of sitcomy gimmicks and cheap-laugh jokes and yet still I can’t help looking for some social commentary, something I’m not moved to do with, say, the most recent iteration of Scary Movie. I don’t know if this movie actually has subtext but it does a good job of making me try to see subtext. And trying to untangle this puzzle keeps me from spending too much time thinking about how much I’m not enjoying the movie I’m seeing.

So is Witless Protection dumb like a fox? Or is it really just as goofy and at times disturbing (the movie falls back on racism and sexism with a scary ease) as it appears to be? Is it commenting — poorly — on these prejudices? Am I giving it too much credit? Damn, have I been out-witted by Witless Protection? D

Rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor. Directed by Charles Robert Carner and written by Carner and Alan Blomquist, Witless Protection is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.