There’s a depressed and depressing ”abandon all hope” listlessness to What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, a worst-case comedy that answers its own title question in every scene: The worst thing that could happen, certainly as far as comedy is concerned, is for everyone involved to stop giving a damn. Funny, not funny, good acting, bad, what the heck. Let’s move on to the next scene, people; lunch break in an hour.
That’s the feeling, anyhow, of this gassy hill of beans, in which Martin Lawrence plays Boston based professional thief Kevin Caffrey and Danny DeVito plays Max Fairbanks, the billionaire whose North Shore mansion Kevin targets. Now, Max we know and understand. He’s one of those brash, ball-busting little men in whom DeVito specializes — a loud, lewd, cigar-chomping vulgarian from the ”Ruthless People” school of ”f— you.” DeVito is a travel size physical specimen, but he’s so lusty, noisy, and hairy in his hollering and hell raising that he easily stands up to men twice his stature (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the discrepancy between height and breadth of apoplexy is the actor’s charm.
As the tax cheating head of a colossal company with the paradigmatic name of Global Universal Industries, Max bullies his attorney (Richard Schiff, doing a variation on his ”West Wing” sadsack civil servant persona), scares his chief of security (Larry Miller, nailing his few screwy scenes), and cheats on his armor plated wife (Nora Dunn) with a bosomy magazine pinup girl (Sascha Knopf) who really wants to be a TV entertainment journalist. (Laugh, go ahead; that’s one of the script’s only recognizable jokes.)
And so when Kevin has the audacity to break into Max’s mansion — not knowing the tycoon is upstairs, hootchy kootchying with the ”Entertainment Tonight” host wannabe — the captain of industry explodes with outrage: A pipsqueak wants to rob Max? Hah! Max will fight like a pit bull, stealing something of Kevin’s in return.
This escalating revenge might be a fairer and more amusing battle if the Kevin we see weren’t such a smudge, a puddle, a disjointed collection of Martin Lawrence routines and comedy postures passing as a character. Kevin is supposed to be educated and discerning enough to spot a fake masterpiece from the real deal, yet he shares his heistwork with a motormouthed hothead (John Leguizamo, coughing up a nervous string of caricatures, from gibberish speaking Arab emir to monocled German twit) and a hood styled lounge lizard (”The Original Kings of Comedy”’s Bernie Mac). He rolls like a ladies’ man, yet he’s immediately smitten and reformed by a random pretty woman (Carmen Ejogo, far more effective as Coretta Scott King in HBO’s ”Boycott”). He’s supposed to be Martin Lawrence funny — edged with raunch, spry, in high gear — but instead he’s simply all over the map.
Maybe the worst thing that can happen is that every other movie at the multiplex will be sold out this weekend.