Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: What's the Worst That Could Happen? (2001)
Studio Line: MGM - It takes a thief to nail a crook.

Possession may be 9/10 of the law… but payback is everything to the lawless. Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito escalate a battle of egos - and a battalion of laughs - to epic proportions in this fast-paced joke-fest that takes low-down behavior to hilarious new heights! Co-starring John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge), Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), William Fichtner (Pearl Harbor), Bernie Mac (The Original Kings of Comedy), Carmen Ejogo (The Avengers), Larry Miller (The Nutty Professor II) and Nora Dunn (Three Kings), this laugh-out-loud comedy proves that "the worst that could happen is missing this film" (Jeffrey Lyons)!

Caught red-handed trying to rob a mansion, Kevin Caffery (Lawrence) leaves empty-handed when the house's owner, ruthless billionaire Max Fairbanks (DeVito) spies Kevin's 'lucky' ring and claims it as his own! Out of jail and out of his mind with rage, Kevin will do anything to get the ring back. But Max considers it his most cleverly won possession and will do anything to keep it! With battle lines drawn and no risk too great, these two set out to ruin each other's lives… and both succeed admirably!

Director: Sam Weisman
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Danny DeVito, John Leguizamo, Glenne Headly, Carmen Ejogo, Bernie Mac, Larry Miller, Nora Dunn
Box Office: Budget: $45 million. Opening Weekend: $13.049 million. Domestic Gross: $32.095 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish & French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; 32 chapters; rated PG-13; 98 min.; $26.98; street date 1/2/02.
Supplements: Audio Commentary With Director Sam Weisman and Producer David Hoberman; Audio Commentary With Actors Danny De Vito, Glenne Headly, William Fichtner, Bernie Mac, Carmen Ejogo, Nora Dunn, Sascha Knopf, Siobhan Fallon, and GQ; Deleted/Alternate Scenes; Outtakes; “Scene Stealers” Featurette; Music Video for “Music” by Erick Sermon Featuring Marvin Gaye; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/C+/B-

Sometimes movie studios make life too easy for critics. How else can I explain film titles like What’s the Worst That Could Happen? It’s as though they envisioned the snappy one-liners that would ensue when they came up with the name. I’ll refrain from such commentary, but if you’re going to give a movie such a title, you’d better make sure it’s a great piece of work. Anything else will get a wide variety of cheap shots.

Unfortunately, Worst largely lived up - or down - to its name. An extremely uninspired and tedious comedy, the movie tried to exhibit a high level of wacky cleverness with some allegedly intriguing and unusual characters. Instead, it just came across as a witless mélange of other sources that never inspired much humor or entertainment.

Worst mainly focuses on successful criminal Kevin Caffrey (Martin Lawrence). Early in the film he meets the love of his life at an auction. Amber (Carmen Ejogo) needs to sell a beloved painting to pay some bills. Kevin can’t buy it for her, but he does the next best thing: he steals it from the winner. Soon after, Kevin and Amber become an inseparable couple, and she doesn’t seem to mind his criminal ways.

The plot thickens after Amber gives Kevin a ring with some special meaning since she’d gotten it from her father. Kevin and his accomplice Berger (John Leguizamo) break into the house of media mogul Max Fairbanks (Danny De Vito) but Kevin doesn’t make a clean escape. When caught, Max decides to stick it to the thief; he claim that Kevin’s “lucky ring” is actually his and has the cops force Kevin to “return” it.

Thus the stage is set for the rest of the movie. The plot revolves wholly around this ring and Kevin’s attempts to retrieve it. He and his friends go to more and more outrageous methods to get it back from Max. Both men totally ignore all of the havoc they wreak, as the quest for the ring becomes a battle of their respective wills.

All of this had serious potential, but Worst totally squanders any positives as it turns into a bland mish-mash of allegedly outrageous material. As I think of the movie, the word “forced” constantly returns to my mind. Everything about Worst seems prefab and packaged. There’s virtually no inspiration of spark on display, and the movie comes across as being self-consciously wacky and irreverent. It’s nuttiness by committee without flair or invention.

Composer Tyler Bates seems to have sensed the movie’s lack of passion, for he does his best to try to inject it with some life. I can’t recall the last time I heard such a frantic and desperate score. Bates beats us on the head with contrived musical levity, but unfortunately, his efforts just make the result seem even more pathetic. The score piles on the artificial excitement but never convinces us to believe it.

Although the cast includes some solid performers, none of them do anything with the material. Instead, they get caught up in the cheesiness of the entire enterprise and essentially become submerged under its witlessness. I can’t say that any of the actors embarrass themselves, though William Fichtner’s effeminate detective seems incredibly forced.

There’s that word again! Ultimately, “forced” remains my preferred time to describe What’s the Worst That Could Happen?. It badly wants to resemble a classic De Vito comedy, 1986’s excellent Ruthless People, but instead it comes across on the same level as a terrible De Vito comedy, 2000’s Drowning Mona. While Worst isn’t quite as bad as that stinker, it still falls far short of its goals as it offers an unrelentingly bland and unremarkable experience.

The DVD:

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Overall, the image looked reasonably good but it wasn’t terrific for such a recent film.

Sharpness usually came across as acceptably distinct and accurate. However, some wider shots appeared mildly soft and fuzzy, largely due to the presence of some easily discernible edge enhancement. At times that problem became moderately heavy; most of the movie seemed to lack edge enhancement, but it definitely marred a few sections. Nonetheless, most of the flick looked nicely crisp and clear. Print flaws also seemed excessive for a recent film. While not chock full of defects, Worst packed in a moderate number of speckles and some grit.

Colors were a strong point. Throughout the movie, hues appeared nicely bright and vivid. They showed no concerns related to bleeding, noise, or other issues, as they remained clear and accurate. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was clean and appropriately heavy. Ultimately, the edge enhancement and print flaws caused me to knock Worst down to a “B-“, but much of the movie really looked quite good.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of What’s the Worst That Could Happen? seemed very typical for a comedy. The soundfield lacked much spark, as it remained heavily anchored in the front spectrum. Music demonstrated good stereo presence and separation, while effects showed reasonable movement and integration across the front channels, but they never played a very substantial role in the affair. Surround usage stayed essentially restricted to general reinforcement of the music and effects. Other than during a gunfire sequence, the rears almost never kicked in any additional information.

Audio quality appeared similarly lackluster. At times, speech sounded slightly rough and edgy, but the lines generally came across as acceptably natural and warm, and I never experienced any problems related to intelligibility. Effects were fairly clean and accurate, but they lacked much depth; as a whole, the track seemed heavy in mid-range. Music also showed those characteristics, as the score sounded somewhat flat. Modest bass response popped up at times, but those elements never came across as especially deep or rich. Ultimately, the soundtrack of Worst was acceptable but it seemed pretty lackluster for a recent movie.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? packs a fairly substantial roster of extras. This disc is another example of a DVD-14, apparently a favorite format at MGM. As also seen on their releases of The Terminator and Jeepers Creepers, this offers one dual-layered side and another single-layered side. The two versions of the movie appear on the dial-layered portion, while most of the extras show up on the single-layered reverse.

Still, we get some materials on side one. Most significantly, we find two audio commentaries. First up is a track from director Sam Weisman and producer David Hoberman. Both men were recorded together for this running, occasionally screen-specific piece. At times, I heard a little interesting information, but as a whole, I thought the commentary seemed quite dull

As with many of these kinds of tracks, the emphasis appeared to be on the excessively positive. I frequently learned how talented and terrific all involved are. Weisman and Hoberman covered some changes between the original book and the movie and also some modifications to the film itself, and they also went over a few moderately compelling notes about casting. Otherwise, however, this was essentially a piece of fluff that offered little in the way of depth.

It also suffered from many empty spaces, some of which appeared to result from editing. Early on I heard them refer to how they prefer this version of Worst to “that other movie”. From what I inferred, it sounded as though Worst was meant to take a different path, mainly via alternate casting. However, those elements seem to have been left of the commentary-room floor; all we’re left with is a mystifying reference.

After this we get an “actor’s commentary”. This piece includes remarks from performers Danny De Vito, Glenne Headly, William Fichtner, Bernie Mac, Carmen Ejogo, Nora Dunn, Sascha Knopf, Siobhan Fallon, and GQ; it’s an edited piece that is periodically screen-specific. Though the first commentary had its issues, it looked like filet mignon compared to the actor’s track. The first third or so of the piece was especially unbearable. Silence encompassed most of that portion, and when someone spoke, they either told us mundane and obvious notes about their characters or they praised the other performers.

For the last hour or so of the track, it improved somewhat, but that growth was relative. The empty spaces occurred less frequently, though they still left us with no dialogue much of the time. In addition, the actors added a few moderately interesting tidbits about the shoot. However, these improvements were pretty modest, and this remained a largely dull and lifeless commentary.

As we move to side two, we discover an array of other extras. We start with the Deleted/Alternate Scenes. This section includes nine snippets. By my count, five of them are extensions of existing segments, while the other four offer totally new material. Presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, each clip lasts between 16 seconds and 60 seconds for a total of six minutes and eight seconds of footage.

Considering the brevity of the scenes, one might expect to find little quality material here, and one would be correct. These snippets are fairly bland as a whole, and they add nothing to the experience. Annoyingly, the DVD fails to add a “Play All” option, which makes the job of getting through all of them more of a chore. “Play All” should be a given, especially when the clips are so short.

Within the Featurettes domain we get two different pieces. Outtakes offers two minutes and 58 seconds of the usual mistakes and goofiness. It’s inconsequential at best. Am I the only one who thinks De Vito comes across like a jerk because he won’t shut off his cel phone on the set?

Next we find Scene Stealers, an insanely puffy and uninformative featurette. It offers the standard mix of shots from the set, film clips, and interviews with producer Hoberman, director Weisman, and actors Bernie Mac, John Leguizamo, Nora Dunn, Carmen Ejogo, Martin Lawrence, Glenne Headley, William Fichtner, and Danny De Vito. The program runs for 24 minutes and offers virtually no substance. It packs in far too many movie snippets, and the interviews simply tell us how great everything and everybody was. Weisman also uses the word “organic” about a million times. Skip it.

Finally, the DVD ends with the movie’s theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, as well as a music video. That clip offers “Music” by Erick Sermon featuring Marvin Gaye. It’s a dull song and the video provides little more than the usual combination of lip-synching and movie snippets. Overall, this disc includes a nice amount of extras, but the quality of the pieces seems pretty lackluster.

As does the film itself. At its heart, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? had some potential, mainly due to a fairly solid cast. Unfortunately, the result was a messy and tedious affair that never threatened to entertain or amuse me. The DVD provides decent but unspectacular picture and sound with a roster of generally bland supplements. I didn’t hate What’s the Worst That Could Happen? but I can’t recommend this flat and unfunny comedy.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.4545 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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