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Movie Review

'Witless Protection' is dumb, but you knew that

Larry the Cable Guy and Jenny McCarthy star in a film where unsophisticated slapstick reigns. Larry the Cable Guy and Jenny McCarthy star in a film where unsophisticated slapstick reigns. (Sam urdank)
Email|Print| Text size + By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / February 23, 2008

Hayseed comedy has a good, long tradition in America, from Mark Twain to Ma and Pa Kettle to "Hee Haw" to the "Ernest" movies. So why do we get stuck with Larry the Cable Guy?

True, beating up on Larry's new movie, the aptly titled "Witless Protection," is just too easy. It's a slapstick B-programmer aimed not at pointy-headed big-city movie critics but at folks who like their comedy proudly unsophisticated - the audiences who've followed the star from his roots in the redneck comedy circuit. When someone icily tells Larry "Your attempts at humor are feeble, juvenile, and bigoted," well, that's the pig call the target demographic has been waiting to hear.

"Witless" finds our hero cast as Larry, a dim-bulb but good-hearted deputy sheriff in rural nowheresville who sees a pretty woman escorted by some men in black and immediately assumes she's being kidnapped. They're the FBI, actually, and they're taking star witness Madeleine (Ivana Milicevic) to Chicago for the trial of her former lover and boss, an Enronesque white-collar villain. Larry kidnaps her from the Feds and quickly becomes convinced they're on the side of the bad guys. Cue a long, dingy road trip to the Windy City. "It Happened One Night" this ain't. Actually, a Don Knotts movie this ain't.

It's mostly harmless dum-dum stuff, though. Larry will make an innocently naughty malapropism - fleeing the agents, he'll say "I'm trying to make a flawless ejaculation" - and then break wind. The oddest thing about "Witless Protection" is its apparent random casting. Peter Stormare, a veteran of "Fargo" among other off-Hollywood films, plays the villain with an extremely peculiar Dutch-British accent. Wandering over from David Mamet-land is Joe Mantegna as a mincing Dr. Feelgood.

Jenny McCarthy gets a few scenes in Daisy Dukes as Larry's waitress girlfriend and Eric Roberts turns up as a lethal security man. And there's Yaphet Kotto, recycling his FBI agent suit and his character name from "Midnight Run." Those big, wise eyes have never looked sadder.

They all take a back seat to Larry - real name Dan Whitney - a pretty smart guy, who under the trucker cap and sweat-stained cutoff shirt, has realized there's money to be made pandering to the humor and prejudices of white, undereducated Middle Americans. The otherwise genial "Witless Protection" scrapes bottom whenever a black person or an Asian or an Arab is wheeled on for just-kiddin' laughs. "Yer a funny little feller," says Larry after threatening a Muslim motel owner with deportation to Guantanamo Bay. And Larry? You're a big ugly racist.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

Witless Protection

Directed by: Charles Robert Carner

Written by: Carner and Alan Blomquist

Starring: Larry the Cable Guy, Ivana Milicevic, Jenny McCarthy, Yaphet Kotto, Eric Roberts, Peter Stormare

At: Boston Common, Revere

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (farts, burps, butt-crack humor, condescending racial yuks)

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