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Dustin Putman

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Marci X (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Richard Benjamin
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayons, Christine Baranski, Richard Benjamin, Jane Krakowski, Veanne Cox, Jessica Hardin, Paula Garces, Andrew Keenan Bolger, Jolie Peters
2003 – 85 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language and sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 23, 2003.

I will be the first to admit "Marci X" has its share of problems—the characterizations are spotty and too often oversimplified, while the uneven scene transitions signal post-production tinkering—but there is no excuse for how Paramount Pictures has handled its release. Coming out at the end of August with a nearly nonexistent marketing campaign (along with the beginning of January, this is the weekend studios release projects they have no faith in), the picture was not screened for critics and its poster might as well have been shipped to every theater across the U.S. with "destined to be a box-office dud" spray-painted on them. Walking into "Marci X," audience members would have to live under rocks to expect anything other than a total failure. Walking out of "Marci X," I would dare anyone to honestly say that, yes, it was just as creatively bankrupt as they had expected.

Marci Feld (Lisa Kurdrow) is the pampered grown daughter of Ben Feld (Richard Benjamin), the mega-wealthy owner of a record label who has just come under fire by Senator Mary Ellen Spinkle (Christine Baranski) for releasing the latest album of raunchy rapper Dr. $ (Damon Wayans). When Ben suddenly takes ill and his company is threatened with bankruptcy, Marci decides to take it upon herself to persuade Dr. $ to make an official statement apologizing for his songs' lyrics and, thus, saving the record label. The results of such are not quite as Marci expects, especially after she finds herself falling in love with the misunderstood rapper.

An unexpectedly sharp-nailed satire about the distinct barrier between races, as well as the media's and politician's role in censorship, "Marci X" garners occasional big laughs from just how far it will go in making these statements. The screenplay's comedy, by Paul Rudnick (2000's "Isn't She Great?"), is fast and witty and biting, landing just on the good side of bad taste. In one uproarious moment, Marci hosts a benefit for children who have lost all feeling in their arms, a very real affliction that is more than proven when two kids on display are poked with forks. In another scene, Dr. $ skews a public service announcement he is talked into doing with clearly gay boy band, "Boys R Us," in a most clever way. Additionally, Marci's impromptu rap about her purse at a Dr. $ concert—set to the beat of Madonna's "Vogue"—is ten times as entertaining and creative as Eminem's similar scene in 2002's "8 Mile."

Since her superlative, Oscar-worthy performance in 1998's "The Opposite of Sex," strong feature film work has eluded "Friends" actress Lisa Kudrow (1999's "Analyze This," 2000's "Lucky Numbers," 2002's "Analyze That"). Too often wasted on the big screen, Kudrow has finally been given a lead role that amicably showcases her talents both as a comedian and a serious actress. As Marci, who learns that there is more to life than clinging to the heels of her father, Kudrow is spunky, likable, and—in one particular scene she plays with disheveled hair and no make-up except smeared mascara—has never been more beautiful.

More surprising, however, is the actual chemistry she shares with Damon Wayans (2000's "Bamboozled"). An odd-couple pairing if there ever was one, but Wayans sells it by playing Dr. $ as a hardcore rapper with a heart of gold who takes a liking to Marci's inner funk. All of their scenes together feel genuine rather than pre-fabricated. Unfortunately, it is their relationship that seems to have taken the hardest hit with the cutting room floor when it should have been the centerpiece. In a welcome supporting role, Christine Baranski (2002's "Chicago") is a comic delight in her portrayal of a stuck-up right-wing senator who refuses to admit she likes Dr. $'s musical stylings.

No matter what its detractors may think, "Marci X" is a good film, and one that could have been great had director Richard Benjamin taken his satirical targets a little further and allowed his characters more space to develop and breathe. There is something of a missed opportunity in "Marci X" since the comedy that does work is original, zippy, and ballsy. At the same time, the movie is funny, and this is Lisa Kudrow's strongest feature work in five years. After all, there is more to Kudrow—and "Marci X" proves it—than Phoebe Buffay.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman