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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Senseless' Gave It the Ol' College Try

17 February 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Call it "The Nutty College Student".

In "Senseless", Marlon Wayans plays a promising economics major who earns some much-needed pocket money by acting as a human guinea pig for a highly experimental sense-altering drug.

Unlike "The Nutty Professor", this campus cut-up eschews special effects for more budget-minded physical comedy and to that end serves as an ideal showcase for Wayans' considerable nonverbal talents.

But in an effort to outgross the competition, the filmmakers have gone out of their way to be outrageous at every turn, heaping some cheaply executed racism and homophobia into the obligatory sexist/scatalogical mix.

The ploy backfires, resulting in more groans than titters and ultimately robbing "Senseless" of its full crowd-pleasing potential.

While the Greg Erb-Craig Mazin script (see also "RocketMan") is formulaic to a fault, it has its share of engaging characters, led by Wayans' Darryl Witherspoon. Between paying his way through college and supporting his single mom back home, no job is beneath the affable Darryl, be it dishing out cafeteria grub or conducting regular business at the local blood and sperm banks.

All that could change with his college's annual Smythe-Bates Junior Analyst competition, guaranteeing the winner an immediate position at the prestigious firm with a starting salary of $60,000. Unfortunately, the slot would appear all but locked up by snotty frat boy and banker's son Scott Thorpe (David Spade), who's tight with Smythe-Bates CEO Randall Tyson (Rip Torn).

Lucky for Darryl, an experimental drug he's been paid to take is beginning to have some sensory-enhancing benefits that not only help him upstage Thorpe but also to win over the beautiful Janice (Tamara Taylor). Determined to go the distance, he decides to go against doctor's orders and double the drug's dosage, with the expected disastrous results.

Wayans has a willing, do-anything-for-a-laugh quality that works well for the character and also allows him to show off a flair for physical shtick. While Spade is stuck with another acerbic, spoiled-brat role, "Scream"'s Matthew Lillard scores scene-stealing points as Darryl's hockey-obsessed, body-pierced roommate. Obviously aiming for another "Wayne's World", director Penelope Spheeris tries a little too hard for hip, in-your-face edginess here. It would have been better just to trust the characters and the concept. Of course, part of the problem is a screenplay that fails to cash in on the rich comic potential of the experimental drugs as they begin to have undesirable effects. There was a lot more physical stuff to be mined, and Wayans was clearly up to the challenge.


Dimension Films

A Mandeville Films Gold/Miller production

of a Penelope Spheeris film

Credits: Director: Penelope Spheeris; Producer: David Hoberman; Screenwriters: Greg Erb & Craig Mazin; Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Cary Granat, Eric Gold, Don Carmody; Director of photography: Daryn Okada; Production designer: Peter Jamison; Editor: Ross Albert; Costume designer: Betsy Cox; Music: Yello; Music supervisor: Stephen E. Smith; Casting: Junie Lowry Johnson. Cast: Darryl Witherspoon: Marlon Wayans; Scott Thorpe: David Spade; Tim LaFlour: Matthew Lillard; Randall Tyson: Rip Torn; Dr. Wheedon: Brad Dourif; Janice: Tamara Taylor. MPAA rating: R. Running time -- 89 minutes. Color/stereo.


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