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Smell of Success

The youngest member of the ubiquitous Wayans clan, 25-year-old Marlon, is emerging on the big screen as an eye- and soul-pleasing amalgam of Jim Carrey's lunatic elasticity and Eddie Murphy's faultless comic timing. We can probably expect great things of him.

As evidenced by The Sixth Man, a lukewarm basketball comedy, and his new farce, Senseless, about an overworked student whose senses get scrambled by an untested wonder drug, young Wayans isn't yet attracting the best material. But his energy is infectious, and he's willing to jump off a ledge for a laugh.

Here he plays Darryl Witherspoon, a Harlem homeboy struggling to put himself through high-priced Stratford U. (and pay his mother's electric bill) by taking on every job he can find--waiting tables, selling his precious bodily fluids by the half-gallon, guiding campus tours, picking up trash. He's also a whiz at economics. But to win the competition for a prized junior slot at a Wall Street brokerage firm, Darryl must contend with every cliche that screenwriters Greg Erb and Craig Mazin (Rocketman) can dredge up: a cocky WASP rival (David Spade at his snottiest), a wacky roommate (Matthew Lillard) obsessed with body-piercing, two attractive young women (Tamara Taylor and Kenya Moore), and the very idea that he's a black underdog aspiring to the white business world.

There's also the pivotal drug experiment, which amounts to Darryl's sixth or seventh job. The Flubberesque green stuff he injects first throws his extremities into chaos (enter crude butt jokes), then heightens all his senses tenfold (enter a very funny hockey scene, with Darryl as an otherworldly goalie, and a not-so-funny one involving powerful bathroom odors). Then the inevitable overdose: Suddenly, Darryl can use only four senses at once, and they keep shifting. But Wayans displays fluent control of all five. Blind Darryl insults Patrick Ewing. Deaf Darryl says all the wrong things. Numb Darryl flounders at sex and tumbles onto his carpet.

The plot may be familiar fluff (see also: Trading Places et al.), but the physical business provides a nice platform for Wayans's brand of comedy. Lurching through the city, his faculties flipping on and off like circuit breakers gone haywire, Darryl is a dervish undone. Not even the estimable Mr. Carrey could make so much of the device.

Excise some of the breast jokes and most of the casual race-baiting--the writers, by the way, are white boys who went to Princeton--and this would be a better picture. Director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World, The Little Rascals) has a gift for surreal humor; too bad she insists on mucking it up here.

In the end, though, she has Marlon Wayans to rely on, and his all-out, hell-bent style is a pleasure to watch. He's terrific, and Senseless is fair. Can't wait for his next movie.

--Gallo

Senseless.
Screenplay by Greg Erb and Craig Mazin. Directed by Penelope Spheeris. With Marlon Wayans, David Spade, Matthew Lillard and Tamara Taylor.

 
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