A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Major Payne is an edgy 1995 send-up of military training that features a hard-boiled major who routinely humiliates his recruits, ranging in age from 6 to 16. His calls them such names as "ladies," "turd," "worm," "maggot," and "scrotum sac." Other profanity includes "s--t" and "t-ts." Humor derives from frequent comic references to the violence of war and how some enjoy the rush of wartime killing. He describes violent acts -- he drove a man's nose into his brain -- but no real gore is shown. He breaks a wounded man's finger to get his mind off a serious leg injury. Expect some diarrhea and fart jokes.
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What's the story?
MAJOR PAYNE is a send-up of formulaic movies about sadistic drill sergeants who whip pathetic recruits into shape for their own good. The Payne of the title is a career Marine (a self-described "trained killing machine" played by Damon Wayans) shocked to find himself passed over for promotion and pushed out of the Corps. He reluctantly accepts a position as commander of a junior ROTC program at a prep school. The humor derives from Payne's over-the-top denigration and humiliation of his squad, comprised mostly of prepubescent boys (age 6 to one who shaves). He sets out to terrorize the boys into winning a prestigious ROTC competition, a prospect that seems unlikely given the lack of unity and drive in the motley crew. But in rebellion against Payne's insensitivity, name-calling, and punishment, the boys gain self-confidence, skills, and a kind of respect for their leader. Along the way, Payne's narrow-mindedness broadens as he gains enough affection for the recruits to inspire him to stay on and teach more cadets.
Is it any good?
Damon Wayans plays Payne with outrageous conviction, giving a stock character a kind of wacky truth and credibility and, in turn, pumping an old story with new comic life. The script he cowrote never betrays the killing machine's basic insanity, but it also shows that his insanity has an internal logic that lives alongside Payne's deep intelligence, goofy humor, and basic humanity. That's no small accomplishment.
Older tweens and teens will find plenty of laughs in Major Payne, and parents may find themselves enjoying the humor at times as well.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether authoritarian leaders are good people or monsters. Give some examples. Are there good leaders in Major Payne?
What is the movie's point of view? What is it saying about military training?
Even if a teacher is mean, can he or she teach something important to his or her students?
- In theaters: March 24, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: January 5, 1999
- Cast: Damon Wayans, Michael Ironside, Steve Martini, Karyn Parsons
- Director: Nick Castle
- Studio: Universal
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Some crude humor and language
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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