No need to worry about thoughtless critics giving away all the best jokes in "You So Crazy," the new Martin Lawrence performance film. If they work for mainstream publications, they won't be able to.
For Lawrence is almost always in-your-face raunchy and scatological, an enthusiastic dispenser of profanity whose explicit detailing of all kinds of sexual situations led to "Crazy" getting an NC-17 rating and undergoing a change in distribution. The same tendencies got Lawrence uninvited from "The Tonight Show" after his use on "Saturday Night Live" of what Daily Variety described as "coarse material" elicited hundreds of complaining phone calls.
But Lawrence, the star of Fox network's "Martin" and the former host of HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," is more than someone who talks dirty. As this film of a Brooklyn Academy of Music concert shows, he is an alive comic presence, an adept social commentator, and, most surprising, a promoter of values that can only be called mainstream.
Wearing a leather outfit with a large peace sign on the front and something unprintable on the back, Lawrence can't stand still. He prowls back and forth like a fighter, an impish performer who knows how clever and sassy he is and relishes the knowledge.
Like Richard Pryor, not surprisingly one of his models, Lawrence really doesn't deliver jokes. He tells stories, dispenses advice, describes outrageous situations. A vivid mimic, Lawrence just doesn't talk the talk, he grandly pantomimes every last sexual detail he can think of.
Again like Pryor in his early days, sex and race are Lawrence's two main subjects. He cheerfully skewers white people for being "too chipper; they know it's their country." His more outrageous routines deal with masturbation, oral sex, what goes on in prisons and what mealtime was like for Jeffrey Dahmer. All are offshoots of the kind of no-holds-barred frankness that always characterizes street humor, displaying an absence of shame that places them several steps past what anyone is used to hearing on the big screen.
Yet for all the delight he takes in being unvarnished and verbally beyond the pale, the thrust of Lawrence's performance supports quite solid values. He encourages fathers to take care of their children, men and women to love each other and communicate better, and everyone to use condoms and stay away from crack. Though he may not talk like a conventional role model, beliefs like this make him sound like a candidate for the position.
Very fluidly directed by Thomas Schlamme, who used eight cameras and director of photography Arthur Albert to make sure everything went smoothly, this is a model performance film from a visual point of view. Startling and funny, today's version of comedy that goes beyond the socially acceptable, "You So Crazy's" lack of boundaries will unnerve people who think they're beyond all of that. Which is no doubt part of the point.
\o7 * MPAA rating: NC-17, for language. Times guidelines: very frank and graphic sexual language and mimicry.\f7
'You So Crazy'
An HBO Independent Productions production, in association with You So Crazy Productions, released by the Samuel Goldwyn Co. Director Thomas Schlamme. Producers Timothy Marx, David Knoller. Executive producer Martin Lawrence. Cinematographer Arthur Albert. Editors John Neal, Stephen Smeal. Production design Richard Hoover. Art director John Gisondi. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
\o7 * Playing in general release throughout Southern California \f7