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The laughless mess of “Sextuplets” proves that Marlon Wayans still has a big obstacle in the way of his comedic greatness—himself. You’d be better off streaming one of his potent, whip-silly episodes of his sitcom “Marlon” then picking this new movie on Netflix, which arrives today from director Michael Tiddes, of 2017’s much more enjoyable and clever “Naked.” In that Netflix project, Wayans spent most of a “Groundhog Day” plot scurrying around with no clothes on. But “Sextuplets,” a movie with multiple Marlon Wayans performances? Shrug. When Robin Williams keeps popping up in the film—on a TV screen, on a character's shirt, and even as a doctor’s name—it’s for a reason, as Wayans knows his gift for hamminess has the same potential as the beloved late comedian. But it’s all a sad reminder that while Wayans has a similar comedic energy and charisma, he needs better scriptwriters, stat.
As conceived by writers Marlon Wayans, Mike Glock, and Rick Alvarez, most of the comedic energy within “Sextuplets” is spent on flat character work and even more wholesale kooky sequences, as stapled together by a chintzy idea of family. In the long history of the movies about unlikely family reunions, “Sextuplets” is one of the most blatantly indifferent, setting Wayans’ orphan Alan up to find his biological mother (and then the siblings he learns about) because it sounds like a good idea after all these years, so long as he’s back before his wife gives birth to his first kid. The movie doles out its siblings one underwhelming sequence at a time, and it all doesn’t build towards a sense of unity so much as exhaustion. It’s all too fitting that the last word heard in "Sextuplets" is “family,” followed up by someone making a fart sound.
Wayans handles his many characters with the same limits of care: he gives them a definitive physical appearance, a distinct way of speaking, and sometimes makes them discernible mostly by stereotypes. The comedy will write itself, or so he reckons, and scenes often have him heightening absurdity of any newly introduced sibling, while Alan takes some type of beating as a bland straight man. For example, Wayans plays Alan's sister Dawn as loud and abrasive as possible, mixing in Cardi B chirps in between her threats to fight someone. Then there’s brother Ethan, who is like Steve Harvey as a stereotypical 1970s pimp, gold teeth cap and all. Or, there’s the doughy and dorky Russell, the first sibling that Alan meets, who speaks out the side of his mouth and provides both the film's core fat jokes and the cereal product placement. For what egregious stereotypes the movie uses for its characters—a common jumping-off point for Wayans' comedy—it still feels quarter-baked.
The filmmaking behind “Sextuplets” is notable—not in terms of the plethora B-roll of cars driving, and lazily designed scenes that punctuate on the same beat of someone suddenly getting hit, hard. But with multiple versions of Wayans on the screen at once, “Sextuplets” boasts impressive hair and make-up. There's also a seamlessness here in putting characters shot at different times in the same scene, an advancement for all comedians who want to keep playing various characters at once.
Hardly a road trip movie, or even a movie, “Sextuplets” can’t even be funny as a free-for-all for Wayans, who makes abundantly clear the difference between wackiness and cleverness. Everything is presented bluntly, and small doses of absurdity—such as the film’s fixation on jokes inspired by “The Rockford Files”—can’t even punch up the story. Here’s Marlon Wayans in many different costumes, the film wagers, and thinks that’s all we need. But there’s no heart beyond the dedication to his impersonations, and there’s no fun, either.