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'Senseless' Sensibility

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 1998

  Movie Critic

Penelope Spheeris
Marlon Wayans;
David Spade;
Brad Dourif;
Matthew Lillard;
Patrick Ewing;
Rip Torn;
Tamara Taylor"
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
For overt sexual situations, lewdness, profanity and slapstick violence
You know it's a light movie week when you devote more than four sentences to a comedy – appropriately called "Senseless" – that stars one of the lesser Wayans brothers and David Spade.

In this horror/hip-hop comedy – with a message that fortune cookie manufacturers would dismiss as facile – Marlon Wayans plays Darryl Witherspoon, a brilliant economics student at Stratford University with the wrong background: He's an African American from Bed-Stuy and he's penniless. Forced to do anything for money (from being a tour guide for freshmen to making frequent visits to the blood bank), he's trying to pay for his tuition and make enough to send home to Mom and his adorable younger siblings.

Darryl's dream comes into focus when he hears about the annual Junior Analyst Competition at prestigious Wall Street firm Smythe-Bates. To get a job there would solve everything. The only trouble is, he's up against some affluent (and, of course, white) competition, including Scott Thorpe (David Spade), the frat-brat son of a Wall Street banker who thinks the job's $60,000 starting salary is already in his pocket.

Still seriously short of money, Darryl signs up as a guinea pig for a mysterious medical experiment. The serum, which he has to inject into his behind, is very risky, but its benefits are promising. It could potentially heighten his physical sensations to the point of ecstasy. It also promises him an easy $3,000.

As Darryl discovers, the drug enhances his senses so acutely, he can eavesdrop on any conversation, smell the slightest scent and zoom in on the distant buttocks of beautiful women. After a horrible start – in which everything is too loud, too bright and too smelly (you can imagine the hilarious, sophisticated examples they use) – his system adjusts itself. Now a virtual superman, with all senses tingling, he sets out to use the drug to impress the Smythe-Bates CEO (Rip Torn), beat out snooty Scott in the company's rigorous tests and woo the high-class Janice (Tamara Taylor).

"Senseless" takes forever to get off the ground – assuming the "real fun starts" when he begins injecting that wonder drug. There's more bathroom and slapstick humor than a sixth-grader could stand, and a veritable flood of drool, blood and less mentionable effluvia, most of it courtesy of Mr. Wayans as he tries to be – you know – funny.

Spade's motivation to be in this movie is mystifying. He plays a cad who's one-dimensional even for a comedy like this; and he doesn't have more than one or two funny moments in the entire film. In the lead role, Wayans simply goes for broke. Sometimes, like the proverbial blind pig, he finds the acorn. There are some amusing sight and slapstick gags here and there, particularly when he shows up at a sperm bank carrying an empty water cooler for a receptacle or does a funny – if cruel – imitation of someone with Tourette's syndrome.

More often, though, Wayans is just running his motor recklessly – free of the kind of brilliance you'd get from, say, his brother Damon, who would never appear in a comedy this lame; or Jim Carrey, who'd run spazzy rings around Marlon with a blindfold on and both hands tied behind his back. But this is Marlon's movie, so we have to settle for a bargain basement movie that ought to be thrown into the cutout bin as soon as it slinks into the video stores.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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