Citizen Tang

Patient: Pootie Tang

Profile: Based on the all-powerful gibberish-talking street-level superhero skit character from The Chris Rock Show, Pootie Tang is very funny, very silly. It's a movie that is funny for funny's sake, dripping with great comic asides, abusive cornstalks, Robert Vaughn spankings, and vaguely hot and plump farm girls licking pie. I love this movie! Think Hollywood Shuffle meets Airplane! meets Hooked on Phonics meets The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Symptoms: The problem with most skit-based movies—the large majority of which originate with Saturday Night Live—is that filmmakers get it into their heads that we want to see a fully realized, three-dimensional portrait of the Coneheads. We don't. We liked the characters because they were funny. Three-dimensional characters can be funny—Annie Hall's Alvy Singer—but we like skit characters, whether it's Pootie Tang or Dan Rather, exactly because there's not a shred of humanity to them. They're just ridiculous. Yet filmmakers lose sight of that—and of why the character and situation were funny and popular in the first place. Most recently—and disappointingly—this happened with Tim Meadows' "The Ladies Man," a very funny character who said things like, "I think you should do it in the butt," but once on the big screen, he became about as engaging as Tony Brown. Hey, all we wanted was "Do it in the butt!" Isn't that what we're all really looking for, you know, in the end?

Diagnosis: A blueprint for the genre, a veritable Citizen Tang for skit movies to come.

Prescription: This movie is so smart because it doesn't attempt to be. It's simply a series of funny scenes tied together with a storyline that is silly and simple enough not to inhibit comic flights, whether that's a gorilla attack in a steel mill or a three-minute Chris Rock rant ("Pootie Tang kick yo' ass so bad you can write it off on yo' taxes!"). Unencumbered by useless, weighty plot contrivances, the comic actors in Pootie Tang can focus on the comic part of their jobs. Oh, and the movie is real short, about an hour and 15 minutes. Keep it ridiculous and short. . . . And doing it in the butt couldn't hurt. . . . Well, you know.

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