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MOVIE REVIEW

'Marci X' doesn't know hip from hop

In "Marci X," Marci Feld (Lisa Kudrow) takes over a rap label after the raunchy tunes of its biggest act provoke a senator to demand the head of the label's ailing CEO, who happens to be Marci's dad.

As the new label chief, Marci embarks on a mission to make Dr. S (Damon Wayans) clean up his act. They wind up falling in love. Jaws drop all over Harlem and the Upper East Side, and a firestorm of media speculation ignites over the blond Jewish American princess and the obscenely tattooed misogynist. She shops at Henri Bendel; he performs "The Power in My Pants" with a Roman candle exploding from his crotch.

Richard Benjamin (who plays Marci's father) directed the movie from a screenplay by clever satirist Paul Rudnick, and you can almost detect a jagged salvo on the hypocrisies of race, sex, class, and hip-hop lurking beneath the lazy indifference. This could have been like Robert Downey Sr.'s "Putney Swope" for Jewish girls; instead it's exasperating in its enervated, politically toothless jabs.

I really wanted to be offended -- by its brilliance or by how boldly awful it could be. (I didn't care which.) But "Marci X" barely cares about itself. As the senator, Christine Baranski is often unwatchable, not because she's bad (which she is) but because there's usually makeup clumped on her face.

Kudrow is game for the movie's ironies, at one point even donning an old Erykah Badu kente cloth head wrap and gown. But Wayans, for his part, provides only a shaky sense that he knows what he's doing. Permed and pimped-out, Dr. S is trapped somewhere between one of Wayans's old "In Living Color" caricatures and Snoop Dogg, resulting in a persona more laughable than threatening. And the hard-core hip-hop that's supposed to be an affront is simply a handful of old tunes from C+C Music Factory that somebody just put in the microwave.

The movie has no idea what to make of black people or hip-hop culture; the script seems as if it's been written by someone who spent one morning at the doctor's office flipping through a copy of Vibe. Rudnick has better luck with vapid Jewish aristocrats, which shouldn't be surprising since he spends a lot of time as one: He writes a very funny movie column for Premiere magazine as "Libby Gelman-Waxner." But here he can't even bring off his assaults against J.Lo, Suge Knight, P. Diddy, and 'N Sync with anything resembling conviction or aplomb.

Rudnick also wrote the floundering "In & Out" and "Isn't She Great," and based on his insistence on half-hearted structuring, he doesn't appear to take the craft of screenwriting seriously. In "Marci X," he's scribbled himself a gem that he has no interest in polishing.

Maybe he knew what I suspected. Had this picture come out 10 years ago, we might regard it today as we do other dated "raptires" such as "CB4" and "Fear of a Black Hat": with a sort of cockeyed fondness.

"Marci X," though, is just clueless and sad, seemingly having missed the point that hip-hop is no longer a novelty to be slapped on the cheek with a white glove. Although now that the music and its lifestyle have conquered the world's teenagers, I suppose the only frontier left is their grandmothers.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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