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‘Who’s the Man’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 23, 1993

Ted Demme's rap comedy "Who's the Man?" is a slapped-together item that plays like a hip-hop home movie -- the sort of movie that is fun for the people who made it and rather tedious for those of us who didn't.

The film's stars are Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, the hosts of "Yo! MTV Raps," and joining them in the cast is the cream of the rap world crop, among them Ice-T, Kriss Kross, Heavy D, Fab 5 Freddy, Public Enemy and a gross of other music stars who make cameos as gangsters or cops or simply residents of the Harlem neighborhood where the movie is set. Most of the film's charm is designed to come from brief appearances by this gathering of rap's royalty, who supposedly give the picture a boost whenever they show their mugs on camera. But the producers, who describe the film as a " 'Yo! MTV Raps' roadshow," seem to have miscalculated here, because so much effort has been expended on wedging these music stars into the narrative that the main story appears incidental.

Actually, what "Who's the Man?" most resembles is those "Big Broadcast" films of the '40s, where a parcel of radio, stage and film stars gathered to showcase their talents. But here the performers don't perform, as many of the stars in those earlier cavalcade films did; they just show up. And though there's a tiny thrill to be had in recognizing these musicians in their film roles, it's hardly enough to carry the movie.

That job is left primarily to the rotund Doctor Dre and his leaner partner, who, using their own names, play a couple of profoundly untalented employees in a Harlem barbershop owned by their friend Nick (Jim Moody). Because they're so bad at cutting hair (their customers usually look like tragically clipped poodles), Nick insists that they apply for jobs as policemen. Though neither likes the idea of "being the man," they sign up anyway and manage, against staggering odds (and constant badgering by Denis Leary, who plays their hysterical sergeant), to make it onto the force.

As it turns out, it's lucky that they do, especially when Nick is murdered, because then they can try to solve the case, which is what they spend most of the movie doing. Sort of.

Actually, the plot hardly matters. (At least not as much as, say, the soundtrack.) Instead, Demme and screenwriter Seth Greenland have set things up so that Dre and Lover can walk through the action working variations on their inner-city Abbott and Costello routine. As television hosts, Lover and Dre have had the chance to perfect their comic personas, and, surprisingly enough, they manage to get a nice rhythm going in their scenes together. They're a fun pair of buffoons, especially Dre, who uses his big body and expressive moon face to get laughs out of material that is far from first-rate.

Given a better script, these two might actually make a top-notch comedy team. Now, all that's left is to find the right vehicle for them to strut their stuff. Unfortunately, "Who's the Man?" is not it.

"Who's the Man?" is rated R for language.

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