Martin Lawrence's career has mimicked Richard Pryor's, with stand-up success paving the way for lucrative television and film work, as well as the excesses and scandals that frequently accompany it. Pryor was famous for using the pain and torment of his private life as fodder for his stand-up act and concert films, and while Lawrence lacks Pryor's dark genius, he again follows in his footsteps in using his public travails as the centerpiece for his newest concert film, Runteldat. Early in the film, Lawrence lashes out against critics—whom he eloquently admonishes to review "deez nuts"—and promises to tell the truth about his notorious brushes with the law and his well-documented coma. But he doesn't actually get around to addressing those events until much later in Runteldat. Similarly, he veers frequently into promisingly mature territory (aging, children, marriage) before inevitably returning to lowest-common-denominator jokes about female genitalia, characterized by frenetic mugging. Time and again, Lawrence brings up a high-minded topic (civil rights, America's unity following Sept. 11) only to devolve into xenophobia and misogyny. He finally gets around to addressing the struggles of his own life in Runteldat's second half, at which point he lets the tired shtick subside and gives a surprisingly intimate glimpse at the man behind the silly faces and R-rated naughtiness. His account of his bottoming out has the liberating ring of truth, and constitutes the film's most Pryor-like element. Lawrence has never appeared more vulnerable than he is here, and there's something both tender and surprising about the way he recounts his inability to control his bowels following his coma, and how it affected his relationship with the pretty nurse on whom he had a crush. Then, as if to apologize for any hint of maturity, Lawrence closes his act with an awful stretch of hackwork betraying the scatological obsessions he explored in an infamous opening monologue on Saturday Night Live. Lawrence's public foibles haven't magically transformed him into a comic genius, but they have made his act surprisingly poignant, if never especially funny or profound.
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