In the raucous "Malibu's Most Wanted," Ryan O'Neal's Bill Gluckman is a glib, rich gubernatorial candidate with a beautiful wife (Bo Derek) but a problematic son, Brad (Jamie Kennedy). It seems the Gluckmans never made time for Brad, and he has grown up on gangsta rap, courtesy of the family's maids. Surrounded by his own crew, he has adopted ghetto speech and has but one desire: to be known as the world's greatest rapper, going on about the hard-core life up in the 'Bu. Realizing that Brad, or B-Rad, as he calls himself, might prove a liability, Gluckman's campaign manager (Blair Underwood) has a plan. Hire a couple of actors, Sean (Taye Diggs) and PJ (Anthony Anderson), to impersonate gangsters and take him down to South-Central (recently re-christened South Los Angeles), where he has never actually been, and scare him back into being a regular white kid.
Director John Whitesell and Kennedy and a clutch of his co-writers mine this improbable premise for more comic cultural satire than one might expect, but after an hour, or two-thirds of the film, they run out of gas. This is the kind of material that's easier to set up than it is to bring together in a satisfying fashion.
This means B-Rad has to experience a feeling of genuine danger (without the film being offensive) and has to come to terms with himself, his father and the people he has encountered. That tall order requires more imagination and daring than the filmmakers have at their command, and the film falls apart in its final third, offering at one point the unfortunate image of O'Neal ramming a dilapidated South-Central cottage with his Humvee.
A large cast does however get into the outrageous spirit of the occasion, including O'Neal, and the funniest sequence involves Sean and PJ, both middle-class African Americans, trying to figure out how ghetto gangsters actually behave; it might have been a better idea to have made Sean and PJ the film's central characters and have the story unfold from their perspective.
The task of grounding the film to some sort of reality falls to the talented Regina Hall as PJ's cousin Shondra, a young woman who is pursuing entrepreneurial dreams by working her way through beauty school and who has shed her gangster boyfriend Tec (Damien Dante Wayans) as part of the process. It is Shondra who actually notices that B-Rad is at heart a nice white kid who feels his gangsta pose is all he has going for him.
"Malibu's Most Wanted" plays like Warren Beatty's 1998 "Bulworth," in which Beatty cast himself as a truth-telling California senatorial candidate courting the black vote, substantially reworked and revved up to appeal to a broad audience of primarily young males. Although it had its queasy moments, some intentional, some perhaps not, "Bulworth" was an ambitious satire; by aiming considerably lower, "Malibu's Most Wanted" may well end up doing far better at the box office.
'Malibu's Most Wanted'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual humor, language and violence
Times guidelines: Mildly raunchy; some sequences may be too intense for youngsters.
Jamie Kennedy ... B-Rad
Taye Diggs ... Sean
Anthony Anderson ... PJ
Regina Hall ... Shondra
Ryan O'Neal ... Bill Gluckman
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation of a Karz Entertainment production. Director John Whitesell. Producers Mike Karz, Fax Bahr, Adam Small. Executive producer Bill Johnson. Screenplay Fax Bahr & Adam Small & Jamie Kennedy and Nick Swardson. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor Cara Silverman. Music John Van Tongeren with Damon Elliott. Costumes Debrae Little. Production designer Bill Elliott. Art director Daniel A. Lomino. Set decorator John Anderson. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
In general release.