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MOVIE REVIEW

'Little Man' is inanely entertaining

Frankly, the prospect of a movie starring Marlon Wayans as a 36-inch-tall ex-con pretending to be a toddler did not excite me, but the film's enthusiasm for the lowest imaginable humor and Marlon's seemingly boundless skill at bringing it off are contagious. (His head has been digitally snapped on the lively little bodies of Linden Porco and Gabriel Pimental.) Everybody looks like they're having fun in ``Little Man," another inane outing from the Wayans brothers. And with some ineptly made comedies, that's good enough.

I laughed at the Wayanses' movie, and I don't even hate myself for it. The truth about the family's brand of comedy -- Keenen Ivory directs, Marlon and Shawn act, and all three usually write the script -- is that they like their audiences. We're not insulted, and we're not pandered to either. One major surprise in ``Little Man" is how it quietly takes up the cause of proud black paternity -- Shawn plays the guy eager to adopt Marlon's impostor baby -- without saying, ``Look, we're taking up the cause of proud black paternity!" A heart beats beneath the obligatory collection of breast-milk spit takes, toys to the groin, and urine and flatulence gags.

When Marlon's 3-foot thug, Calvin, steals a huge diamond that ends up in a handbag carried by Kerry Washington, he acts like the child she and her fiancé, Darryl (Shawn), sort of want. She's an upwardly mobile career woman; he's ostensibly careerless -- and broke, too. (The pitiful engagement ring he gives her has a vacant setting.) When Calvin arrives, dropped off by the uniquely funny Tracy Morgan, as Calvin's vividly stupid right-hand man, they can't help falling in love with him. Washington is especially good at registering baby Calvin's freakish qualities (that tattoo, that shank wound, those muscles!), then forgetting about them in the very next scene. That's bad moviemaking. But it could also just be pure love.

With the Wayans es , it's hard to tell the difference. 2000's ``Scary Movie" was as close to a masterpiece as bad filmmaking is likely to come. Ugly and haphazard as it was (Keenen Ivory's style is ruthlessly point-and-shoot), the original ``Scary Movie" was part Mad magazine spoof, part acute social bulletin: the best film ever made about black people experiencing popular culture. There was nothing haphazard about its sense of perception -- the Wayanses knew how to tell a joke. (They dumbed the movies up.) ``White Chicks," from 2003, should have been even better, but the gags never rose to the level of the conceit -- Marlon and Shawn dismantle ``white culture" by going undercover as Beverly Hills ditzes. ``Little Man" is superior to ``White Chicks" because it's not really going for anything. It's brazenly mindless farce.

The brothers get antic support from Molly Shannon and Alex Borstein, from Wayans regulars Lochlyn Munro and Brittany Daniel, as a 'roid-raging dad and his bodacious wife, and from ``In Living Color" vets Kelly Coffield Park and David Alan Grier. Playing Washington's Calvin-suspicious father, the expertly grizzled John Witherspoon, in his least crass film role, steals the movie. But the Wayans es are disarmingly egoless comedians. They want everybody in their films to be funnier than they are.

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

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