With last year’s crass-dressing comedy Big Momma’s House, scrawny wiseass Martin Lawrence proved that he could open and open big: The competently crowd-pleasing flick pulled in an impressive $26 million its first weekend and went on to become one of 2000’s surprise hits. So, given Lawrence’s budding bankability, it wasn’t that great a gamble for the brain trust at MGM to release the new What’s the Worst That Could Happen? in the June heat of blockbuster season—even though this mildly amusing project is much better suited for battle in the dead cinema sea of February. Confining his jive-talking patter to rather subdued PG-13 parameters, Lawrence plays a Boston-based antiquities thief (but a suave, likable one, mind you) who gets his comeuppance while breaking into the beachfront mansion of Danny DeVito’s Max Fairbanks, a horny corporate thief (but still kinda cuddly, like a Lotto-winning Louie De Palma) who catches the quick-tongued crook in the act—then swipes a precious little something in return. This ignites several lazily strung-together set pieces—some funny-dumb, some dumb-dumb—in which the boys take increasingly manic turns swindling and screwing over each other. Based on Donald E. Westlake’s novel of bad guys vs. worse guys, the movie is relatively devoid of any hearty gut-busting moments—although a scene involving a live-on-C-SPAN congressional hearing and an expletive-spewing DeVito is funny, if only for the little man’s sheer vitriolic energy. But what really saves the film from being the cucka it should be is the star duo’s surprisingly good chemistry. Born with the opposite of leading-man looks—one resembles a hatchling with jug-handle ears; the other, a perfectly round ball of uncooked gnocchi—Lawrence and DeVito possess the winning ability to balance self-deprecation and bravado so as to never appear either too goofy or too cocky. When Martin beds his drop-dead love interest, he does so with one sock on, one sock off; when DeVito has a sudsy centerfold relaxing in his cavernous bathtub, he scampers around the scene like Puck on Viagra. Most of the otherwise talented supporting cast—John Leguizamo, Bernie Mac, Ana Gasteyer—do nothing more than hoot at Lawrence’s lukewarm one-liners, but Larry Miller, as a dunderheaded security guard, and William Fichtner, as an androgynous cop, provide richly comic quirkiness in limited parts. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? won’t come close to Big Momma’s box-office bucks—a $13 million opening weekend has already seen to that—but this certified renter certainly won’t dissuade studio heads from turning to charmer Lawrence (or DeVito, for that matter) to once again steal away some summertime loot. —Sean Daly