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Thieves of your time

Review: 'Worst That Could Happen?' Yes, it is

By Paul Tatara
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- The title of Martin Lawrence's new picture, "What's the Worst That Could Happen?", is meant as a rhetorical question. But it only takes about 10 minutes of Lawrence lumbering around in especially heavy-lidded, thick-tongued style before the unavoidable answer strikes you: The worst that could happen is this crummy movie.

Lawrence has starred in some pathetic, one-joke comedies in the past, but he's never seemed as wholly uninterested in his own work as he does here. His pseudo-suave non-performance is arguably the nadir of a nadir-centric movie career.

Lawrence plays a professional thief named Kevin Caffrey. In the opening scene, Kevin is at an art auction, where he meets Amber Belhaven (Carmen Ejogo), a beautiful Brit who's crying because she's selling her favorite painting to pay off some bills. Sensing an easy conquest, Kevin later steals the painting from its new owner and returns it to Amber. This criminal act inexplicably causes Amber to fall into Kevin's waiting arms.

Danny DeVito and Martin Lawrence star in 'What's The Worst That Could Happen?' (May 31)

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Ejogo's ardor is even more baffling given Lawrence's extremely fishy close-ups. In many shots -- though, tellingly, not in all of them -- his face is so smooth and gleaming, it appears that he's been worked over by a team of computer artists. Apparently, stretching gauze across the lens isn't enough these days.

Character non-fascination

One night, Kevin and his buddy-in-crime, Berger (John Leguizamo), break into a mansion belonging to Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito), a billionaire businessman who's on the verge of bankruptcy.

Max isn't supposed to be at home during the break-in, but he's in an upstairs bathroom, seducing a popular pin-up (Sascha Knopf). Though Max's domineering wife (Nora Dunn) suspects he's fooling around on her, she doesn't do anything except stand there for most of the movie. Director Sam Weisman and screenwriter Matthew Chapman are interested solely in Kevin and Max, although it's unlikely the audience will share their fascination.

Max surprises Kevin during the break-in and holds a gun on him while Berger runs away. When the police arrive, Max pretends that a ring Kevin is wearing -- a gift from Amber -- is one of the stolen items. The cops force Kevin to hand it over to Max before they haul him off.

Kevin then escapes from the cop car and returns to ransack the home. But he doesn't find the ring.

The rest of the picture revolves around Kevin's tired attempts to steal the ring back from Max, and Max's attempts to make sure he doesn't get it. The shenanigans supposedly deepen as the story progresses, but the tricks and double-crosses are so lame you couldn't care less.

This is the kind of do-nothing movie you eventually quit watching on an airplane. Unfortunately, theaters don't supply SkyMall catalogues to take up the slack.

Wasted talent

A handful of genuinely talented people occupy the screen, though they score few points.

DeVito does his overheating short-guy shtick for the umpteenth time. There's certainly nothing wrong with it, but it seems like he'd take a moment to regroup once in a while. Leguizamo flashes his gleaming smile, adopts funny voices, and whoops it up, to little, if any, avail; Glenne Headly, as a Tarot card-reading assistant to Max, seems to know what she's gotten into and simply endures her burden until it's over; and Bernie Mac, as Kevin's scheming uncle, manages a couple of minor chuckles in what amounts to a stand-up routine jammed into the storyline.

The only actor who rises above the dross is William Fichtner, as an elaborately effeminate (Is he gay? Bisexual? Quasi-sexual?) detective named Alex Tardio. Tardio repeatedly shows up wearing a brilliant white suit, interviewing people in a bizarre, knowing manner that suggests he's either on the verge of tossing them in jail or inviting them to his townhouse for a wine and cheese party. Fichtner, who also plays a farmer during the prologue to "Pearl Harbor," gives it all he's got, even though the movie doesn't deserve it.

That's a damn sight more than you can say for Lawrence. You can bet those close-ups weren't doctored to cover an abundance of sweat.

"What's the Worst That Could Happen?" doesn't have enough gumption to offend anyone. There's a little bit of bad language, no nudity, and 2.7 minor laughs per hour. Rated PG-13. Note how Tyler Bates' score is employed to make Lawrence seem like he's shifting gears from sarcasm to romance, when all he's actually done is lowered his voice.

• 'What's the Worst That Could Happen?' - official site

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