Black and White (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A pretty unstructured film, interesting in some ways.

James Toback sketched out a plot line, told the actors something about their characters, and let them go from there.

Worked great for some guys. Ben Stiller created quite an enjoyable and complex character. He plays a cop. In a scene where he confronts the D.A. with evidence that his son committed a murder, the D.A. knows that he must want something in return for keeping the evidence between the two of them. Despite knowing the tension the DA must be feeling, Stiller goes on and on about how he made his own clothes when he was a child, and how he likens himself to Saul of Tarsus, and heaven knows what else, and Joey Pantoliano as the DA is just sitting there fuming, ready to kill him, waiting for him to come to the point.

Robert Downey Jr reached deep inside himself and found some ... well, you can guess what is deep inside Downey. Let's just say it's some crazy shit, capped off by his making a homosexual pass at Mike Tyson, played by the real Mike Tyson in an improv scene in which he didn't know exactly what Downey was going to do. That Downey must have a death wish, but he sure coaxed some interesting and seemingly genuine responses out of Tyson.

The movie is different. It is somewhere between documentary and fiction, intermixing actors and rappers playing themselves, with other actors and rappers playing characters, but even the fictional characters are drawn from the lives of the actors.

If you like some experimentation with forms, you may like the sense of documentary immediacy and "truth" that pervades the film. If you like traditional story films, this one isn't your cup of tea.

The general theme is black-white harmony, the context is a bunch of white Manhattan kids who emulate the uptown hip-hop culture. The "plot" concerns a revenge scheme by Detective Stiller to get back at a woman who dumped him for a black basketball star. Stiller sets up the star with some bribes to throw games, then threatens to arrest him if he doesn't turn State's Evidence against his good childhood friend, who happens to be the most dangerous man Uptown. This gets the basketball player killed - by the D.A.'s son, who is a white boy willing to do anything to impress his way into the company of the toughest and coolest black guys - and that takes us back to the scene described above.

There is a three-way in Central Park with a black man and two white women (Bijou Phillips and Kim Matulova). Later, there is a mirror three-way with a white man and two black women (Sabine Lumy and Michelle Dent). Finally, a one-on-one brings Kim Matulova back for s short scene in which she and a guy are caught in the act by his returning girlfriend.

Box Office: They gave it the ol' college try with a 1300 screen release, pretty comparable to the original release of American Beauty, but it died an early death at $5 million domestic gross, compared to a $10 million budget. They thought it would have broad appeal, and it didn't. It's an OK movie, but obviously for a narrow target audience. In fact, although I like hip-hop and kind of like the film, I had a hard time understanding some of the heavier dialects. I'll be more direct. I actually re-watched some scenes with the English subtitles on. So you can imagine that mainstream white middle America could have been totally confounded by the whole experience.

General consensus: about two and a half stars. Apollo rated it 62, Apollo users gave it 65. IMDb members rated it only about two stars (5.0), but Roger Ebert dropped a three bagger on it. Ebert enjoys experimentation with the forms of cinema, and I suspect he enjoys it rather more than anyone else I know about.

IMDB summary: 5.0 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon. Quite a few features on the DVD. (Some deleted footage, full-length commentary, an alternate take of the Downey/Tyson scene, music videos, director's video diary). Widescreen (2.35:1).

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