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Black and White   C-

Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: James Toback
Writer: James Toback
Cast: Power, Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Allan Houston, Claudia Schiffer, Bijou Phillips, Elijah Wood, Mike Tyson.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

James Toback's Black and White is a sprawling mess of a movie hampered by its own clueless ambition. There's obviously some kind of message this movie wants to convey, but I still haven't got the slightest clue what the hell it is. That black culture and hip-hop influence white kids? Duh. What else is new?

The wandering excuse for a plot includes a documentary filmmaker (Brooke Shields) and her gay husband (Robert Downey Jr.) tagging along with a group of white teenagers (including Elijah Wood and Bijou Phillips) who call themselves "niggaz." Although meant to provide some insight as to why white kids are influenced by black culture, the kids just end up being annoying. "I'm a kid in America," spouts one especially irritating white girl. "I can do whatever I want!" Okay, whatever. There's also a college basketball player (played by Knicks forward Allan Houston) who is bribbed into throwing off a game for $50,000 by a sneaky little prick played by Ben Stiller. Then there's model Claudia Schiffer playing the athlethe's thesis-writing girlfriend. (Note to Claudia: Stick to your day job, okay hon'?)

Also making appearances are rapper Method Man, hip-hop producer Oli "Power" Grant, and Mike Tyson, who manages to be the most fascinating character on-screen (playing himself, of course). There's even a thriller plotline -- involving blackmail and murder -- running through Black and White, but it somehow ceases to thrill.

Shot completely improvised with no script, Toback gave the cast free reign over their lines. The results are a mixed bag, more frustrating than not. There is one scene, however, that's absolutely priceless. It involves Mike Tyson lashing out at Robert Downey Jr. for coming onto him, and it's the funniest, most startling scene in the film. If only the rest of the film had such inspired results.

James Toback isn't a bad director. His 1998 gem Two Girls and a Guy (starring Robert Downey Jr., a favorite of Toback's) was an entertaining dialogue-driven piece of filmmaking with three likable yet conflicting characters. In Black and White there are hardly any characters worth giving a damn about, possibly because we never get to know them like in Toback's earlier work. Nope, Black and White just has a bunch of actors, models, athletes, and rappers on improv autopilot, only occasionally coming up with something worthwhile.

There are bits and pieces of a potentially good film in here, but it never comes together the way it should. In the end, Black and White is as rambling and incoherent as Roberto Benigni running around at the Oscars.

Review published 04.07.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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