Thursday, April 11, 2019

Laughs sporadic in 'Little' comedy

Here's a test you can apply: If you find Little consistently hilarious, you and I are on different comedy wavelengths. Executive produced by 13-year-old Marsai Martin (of TV's Blackish), Little reverses the Tom Hanks' comedy Big (1988). The twist: This time, an adult (Regina Hall) winds up in the body of her 13-year-old self (played by Martin).

The movie's single joke is tethered to the kind of feel-good message you might find in a self-help book: Adults shouldn't abandon the kid in themselves; they should respect the true self they learned to repress when they reached maturity.

Hall plays Jordan Sanders, the bitch-on-wheels owner of a company that invents apps -- at least it's supposed to invent them when Jordan isn't terrorizing or berating her employees.

After an encounter with a kid with a wand (yes, it's a flimsy conceit), Jordan wakes up as the 13-year-old she once was. Jordan has a teenager's body, but she retains her obnoxious adult personality. She also finds herself in the care of her astonished assistant (Issa Rae). Rae's April seems to have one job: allowing herself to be abused by her dictatorial boss. Now that the boss has shrunk to kid size, could the tables be turned?

It doesn't take long for an over-amped but mostly wasted Hall to take a back seat to Martin, who -- fairness dictates -- must be credited for turning herself into a convincing teen version of Jordan's older self, a kid who still carries the adult Jordan stylish purse wherever she goes.

A bit of psychology may have been intended to temper Jordan's meanness. She's overcompensating for childhood humiliations by becoming an adult ogre. When she was a kid, Jordan's dad told her that no one bullies a boss. Sick of being pushed around, she vowed that she would join the ranks of those who push others around.

It's nice to see a movie portray a black woman as successful, although Little takes the easy out to make the point: Jordan lives in a super-slick Atlanta apartment and drives a BMW that's a real head-turner.

The adult Jordan doesn't have much time for romance: Luke James signs on as a suitor but Jordan refuses to make an emotional connection with him.

A subplot about the pressing need for Jordan's imperiled company to invent a business-saving app doesn't add much. Neither does 13-year-old Jordan's relationship with a trio of nerds, the only kids who are willing to befriend her, and Little suffers an unpleasant taste lapse when Jordan -- in her 13-year-old body -- flirts with her hunky teacher (Justin Hartley).

Martin obviously has a future, but Little isn't the new Big. As far as broadly conceived comedies go, it's medium-sized at best.

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