What's the Worst That Could Happen?
Making a movie of Donald Westlake's super-funny novel What's the Worst That Could Happen? was a terrific idea. Westlake is the fabulous author of several nimble-witted, New York-based comedy capers, and a damn fine screenwriter to boot (The Grifters, The Stepfather). But as day follows night and flies swarm crap, Westlake's book has been repurposed as a vehicle for the mono-talented (he's got a good smirk) Martin Lawrence, with a screenplay by Matthew Chapman. Whose last credit was the astronomically atrocious Color of Night. Which climaxed with the unveiling of Bruce Willis' penis. Which was infinitely more amusing than anything in What's the Worst That Could Happen?--the movie, that is.
The first screwup is resetting the story in Boston, where, as everyone knows, nothing funny ever happens. Lawrence is Kevin Caffrey, a thief who courts and boffs an overeducated, British-accented BAP named Amber (Carmen Ejogo), who then gifts him with a diamond ring. After director Sam Weisman (George of the Jungle) gives in to synergistic demands by having terrible hip-hop play while the characters drive around and such, Kevin breaks into and attempts to loot the mansion of skeezeball billionaire Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito). Also wasted in the cast are Glenne Headly, slumming as a slutty ditz, Nora Dunn as Max's ball-busting wife, Larry Miller as Max's closeted chief of security, and a spirited Sascha Knopf as Max's pneumatic, dim-bulb mistress.
Anyway, Max catches Kevin mid-robbery and, for reasons too contrived to bother with here, steals the ring right off the thief's finger. After escaping from some boorish cops, Kevin hooks up with his pal Berger (John Leguizamo) and the two repeatedly attempt to recapture the ring from Max, who becomes obsessed with keeping the damned thing. While Kevin and Max slowly realize that Despite It All, They Have Much in Common, a mincing, pastel-suited, poodle-walking, possibly homosexual Detective Tardio (William Fichtner) dogs everyone's every move.
For anyone trapped in the theater wondering, Oh, comedy, where are thy laffs?, Fichtner supplies the sole reason for (ultimately misguided) hope--and the film's only chuckles. He not only imparts to this walking compendium of queer stereotypes a fascinating intelligence but also a weird sort of dignity. Otherwise, What's the Worst That Could Happen? supplies all the charm and humor of a particularly annoying rash, and should be treated in the same way: Just ignore it and it'll go away.