" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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I was all set to start my review with a catty remark, like “the worst that could happen is you waste 100 minutes of your life that you could have spent volunteering at a charity hospital.” But this movie is actually pretty good for a summer comedy.

Rich Man, Thief

Detective Tardio takes a good long look at KevinMartin Lawrence plays Kevin, a career burglar whose M.O. is to attend auctions to learn what draws the most money, follow the buyers home to get their addresses, then come back when they’re gone and steal the valuables.

His latest mark is Max Fairbanks (Danny DeVito), a Boston newspaper tycoon in serious financial trouble. Max’s accountant says he’ll have to file for bankruptcy. His wife (Nora Dunn) tries to convince him to take his responsibilities more seriously. But Max’s mind is on his several mistresses, the latest one being Miss September.

The two finally meet when Kevin breaks into Max’s beach house. Max calls the cops and has Kevin arrested. When the cops show up, Max makes like Kevin’s diamond ring is really his. The cops make Kevin give him the ring, which sets off the movie’s central conflict.

Lawrence and DeVito have some great antagonistic chemistry. Kevin wants his ring back, but to Max it’s a lucky symbol, a macho reminder that he’s so good (even during bankruptcy) that he can beat the thieves at their own game. Someone calls their thieving and counter-thieving a “dick-measuring contest,” which sums up their childish (but funny) fighting pretty well.

Bit Parts

In addition to Max and Kevin, there is a host of other characters who, even without much screen time, get names, dialogue and offbeat personalities. These side characters inevitably light up the screen when they appear and reappear.

Kevin’s partner Berger is played by funny man John Leguizamo (also starring in Moulin Rouge, which also opens today ). Berger and Kevin relax at streetside bars talking about “work,” just like all the other workaday Bostonians.

And when Martin Lawrence’s schtick starts getting old we cut to Windham (Lenny Clarke), also in the criminal trade, but who has a wife and three kids. By day he’s a magician and escape artist, so naturally he’s an excellent locksmith — or lockpick, depending on your needs.

The local burglary detective is a character so outrageous he could only come from a book. (What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is adapted from a novel by Donald Westlake, known for his comic crime stories.) William Fichtner plays Detective Tardio, who has the usual detective’s demeanor — casual curiosity, alert to every clue. But Fichtner’s Tardio is a flaming homosexual, complete with dyed-blond hair and tastefully lavish suit.

Not the Worst That Could Happen

Knowing that the movie came from a book, I was able to appreciate these characters as interesting people filling a fantastical world. However, I might just as easily have called them all two-dimensional or stereotyped. Although I enjoyed the movie pretty well, it probably doesn’t work as well as a film as it did as a book. That this story came from a Donald Westlake novel is both its saving grace and its downfall.

Still, for a quick, disposable comedy, you could do worse.