Film review: Major Payne

Published: Tuesday, March 28 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

If ever there was ever an appropriately named movie, it's "Major Payne" — a pain for the audience, that is.

Damon Wayans, following up his "Blankman" flop with yet another movie that appears to be composed of outtakes from his old "In Living Color" television series, conceived this vulgar nonsense about an out-of-step Marine officer — a trained killer — who reluctantly finds himself commanding junior R.O.T.C. cadets in a private school.

That plot has been recycled ever since the Charlton Heston '50s comedy "The Private War of Major Benson," and when the cadets play practical jokes on Wayans to try and drive him away, it looks like any number of summer camp or "Police Academy"-style comedies of the past two decades. By the time they get to the big military games competition, the audience will likely be snoozing. (Not to mention the ridiculous romance with one of the other teachers in the school.)

The main problem here is that Wayans is once again playing a goofy character so broadly — complete with a couple of gold front teeth, squeaky voice, bald head with scars and silly face-making — that we never accept him as a real character. Picture "The Nutty Professor" with Jerry Lewis playing his nerdy title role for the entire 90 minutes without a break and you'll get the idea.

Worse, Wayans has peppered the film with references to other movies that the target audience — if there is a target audience — probably won't get. Have any modern teens seen "Apocalypse Now" or "Billy Jack"?

And still worse, the humor relies heavily on crass name-calling, making fun of the handicapped (a deaf cadet throughout most of the movie and a blind cadet at the end) and cheap, overly familiar vulgar gags (at one point Wayans is unknowingly given a laxative, leading up to a flatulence joke).

Damon Wayans is a talented actor and comic, but he certainly needs to be reined in. There are moments here when his facemaking in closeup is held on camera forever, supposedly a big laugh-getter all by itself. But when the returns at the box office prove to be lame as the humor here, studio chiefs will be the ones grimacing.

"Major Payne" is rated PG-13 but is quite violent, including a wartime sequence before the opening credits, and is not recommended for children. There is also considerable vulgarity and a few profanities.

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