Picks and Pans Review: Major Payne
Damon Wayans, Karyn Parsons, William Hickey, Michael Ironside, Steven Martini
Given the suspect credits of the main creators of this putative military school comedy—they include" Blankman, Hook, The Resurrection of Bronco Billy, Coneheads, The Last Boy Scout, Flatliners, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka—it's not surprising that Major Payne is as heavy-handed and annoying as its title. What is surprising, and baffling, is that amid its viciously antimilitary script is a kind of backhanded tribute to The Donna Reed Show. The main cadet in the film, a surly wiseacre played by Martini, is named Alex Stone, which was the name of Reed's TV husband, Carl Betz. The Reed theme is also used during a fantasy scene in which Wayans imagines that he has become a suburban househusband. The only things missing are cameos from Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen.
But why?!? About all this film has in common with the Reed show is that it plays so hyperbroadly there is no satiric impact.
Wayans portrays a just mustered-out Marine who takes over an ROTC unit at a prep school. (Hickey, recycling his crotchety-old-guy routine, is the headmaster.) Wayans is supposed to be such a fanatic that he says, "I miss the mustard gas and the killing." (Mustard gas?) But he doesn't even get his fatigues starched, as any career officer would. He also keeps calling the boys turds; in fact the script—by Wayans, Dean Lorey and Gary Rosen—is laden with references to digestive functions.
The gaps between offal jokes are filled by such sequences as Ironside's only scene, a two-minute bit in which he plays Martini's abusive stepfather; there are also fights in which Wayans's students get badly beaten up. One subplot involves a fitful romance between Wayans and Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Parsons, who's squandered as the school's counselor.
Director Nick Castle contributes little besides speeding up the film to denote panic. But Wayans, who was also executive producer, has only himself to blame. Again, the ease and affability that made him likable on TV's In Living Color go unexploited, while his sharp sense of satire is dulled. (PG-13)
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