directed by David Raynr
by Walter Chaw The funniest five minutes of Martin Lawrence's embarrassing concert diatribe Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (trans: "Run, Tell That") occur in an opening video montage that recounts the troubled comedian's arrest for shouting at traffic while brandishing a firearm and the time he fell into a coma while jogging wrapped in plastic wrap yet somehow overlooks the sexual harassment suit filed against him by former television co-star Tisha Campbell. After an hour of deadening material that fails to elicit one cross-cultural laugh, Lawrence returns to the topic of how members of the evil media (and critics) have done him wrong and then proceeds to admit that he was shouting at traffic because he was high as a kite, did indeed have a gun (just for self-defense, he assures, though intentionality is hard to gauge when one is "high as a kite"), and passed out from heat exhaustion during a jogging on the hottest day of the year (a wool skullcap is confessed; not so the cling-wrap). His confessions lead one to wonder how exactly the comedian believes he's been misrepresented by the media.
Once failing to provide the promised point-of-view that would explain Lawrence's public disintegration, Runteldat swiftly becomes an ironic example of the diminishing topicality of his comedy (since 1994's You So Crazy) and stalling of his creativity (since the $100M-grossing Big Momma's House), both of which call into question the alleged cluelessness of critics who stopped supporting him when he got lazy and undisciplined. The only moments during his D.C. gig, captured here for posterity, that come close to scoring are a pair of boozed-up diatribes that play almost exactly like Richard Pryor's (Lawrence's idol) often-poignant, undeniably brilliant, drunk bit. Rather than provide an opportunity for the comedian to address a true social ill (as he once did with a crack-addict bit in You So Crazy), however, Lawrence goes for the easy marital/gender divide.
Tailor-made for Lawrence's virulently undemanding Def Comedy Jam demographic, Runteldat is the Spalding Gray equivalent of a teen gross-out comedy; each bit is geared towards maximum shock value and nothing more. As a cultural document, it represents the worst of a culture, trotting out easy racism, cheap ploys for unearned applause ("Women are so brave for giving birth!"), and the requisite Sinbad "children should be beaten, not heard" shtick, all the while flying the evanescent banner of wounded anti-intellectualism. What results is a tired string of profanities and unimaginative grotesqueries shaped around a bizarre defensiveness and the urge to ingratiate himself with his audience as he takes pains to highlight the unknowable burden of his riches and celebrity. Scatterbrained and scatological in equal measure, Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat is an ego trip as unbecoming as the comedian's disingenuity and growing lack of self-knowledge. His oft-howled anthem of "ride this thing until the wheels fall off" is, by the end, more of a warning than an affirmation, and the final legacy of Runteldat is as a cautionary tale of how outrageous fortune mishandled comes with slings, arrows, and a hard-earned sea of troubles. Originally published: August 2, 2002.
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