Major Payne (1995) — It’s more fun if your name is a pun

“Hello cue balls! Welcome to the house of Payne!”

Justin’s rating: Proving once again that ’90s movie kids grew up deeply disturbed

Justin’s review: As you will no doubt notice from older reviews on this site, in the late ’90s and early ’00s, I was quite scornful of the Wayans tribe and their often repulsive humor. Flicks like Scary Movie and White Chicks sharpened my scorn into deep-rooted loathing, and nothing would ever overcome that. However, since this era, I’ve somewhat mellowed out concerning the Wayans, especially after coming to love the comedic chops of Damon Jr. in Happy Endings and New Girl. So I think the time is ripe to actually watch an older Wayans effort — this one starring Damon Sr.

Damon plays Major Payne, a semi-psychotic Marine who finds himself more or less unemployed by the military after, y’know, all the wars are done. Desperate to stay in the only organization that allows him to kill and mutilate things, Payne takes on the role of a ROTC commandant of a group of misfit academy students. With practically nobody overseeing him, Payne starts training the kids as he would any adults — and with as much intensity.

His only opposition comes from Emily (Karyn Parsons), a teacher at the academy who makes it her mission to take the rough edges off of Payne. Her giant doe eyes seem to do the trick… but it’s not long before Payne’s training kicks in and brings him back.

You might expect this to be a quirky yet warm-hearted family comedy, especially considering the presence of child actors and the decade from which it came. You may need to reconsider this, especially once you note the PG-13 rating and the unhinged lunacy of a Wayans at work.

So no, this isn’t a fuzzy neutered comedy; this is a manual on how to mess kids up for life. It’s a kind of crazy that doesn’t really care for being proper, politically correct, or age-appropriate. It’s a grown man yelling at kids, throwing live grenades around, and adamantly refusing to soften up. It’s kind of twisted and deeply hilarious, surprising laughs out of me at the most unexpected times.

For example, there’s one scene where Payne goes into the bedroom of a little kid who’s crying that he’s been left out of a black ops mission (we’ll just skip past the “black ops” part here). So Payne sits down and starts telling a bedtime story to calm the kid. And it’s funny and slightly inappropriate and both the kid and Emily are charmed by it. But then the story keeps going and going, and you start realizing that Payne is describing some sort of graphic war flashback, and by the end he’s screaming and the kid has his blanket over his head. That willingness to push the comedy an extra five or six beats is what gives this movie fangs.

While Major Payne walks a very fine line between child abuse and absurdist events, I thought it landed just right in the end. You see how Payne is doing his best to help the kids to succeed in his own idiom, and I guess the ends justify the means? Or something.

One thing’s for certain: This is not the kind of movie that anyone would dare to make these days, which makes me appreciate it all the more.

Didja notice?

  • “Operation Drug Sweep” sounds awfully generic
  • You get “the itch” if you haven’t killed anyone lately
  • Ratkabob
  • Firing a gun into the air is a good way to get kids’ attention
  • “You little freckle-face cartoon” is my new go-to insult
  • Watering their heads in the mud got a good laugh from me
  • The way Payne screams before he punches a hole in his coke can
  • That is one fast-acting laxative
  • Emily’s eyes are dangerous weapons indeed
  • Shooting the boogeyman in the closet: “If he’s still in there, he ain’t happy”
  • Little kids don’t get to do black ops
  • Payne’s bedtime story starts all normal and gets so crazy at the end, I was rolling
  • The oh-so-90s songs at the club
  • Oh hey, it’s Michael Ironside
  • Payne taking out Charlie in his homebrew fantasy

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