Black and White

             In BLACK AND WHITE, writer-director James Toback offers his
     meditations on the state of race relations in America at the turn of the
     millennium. It is his contention that hip-hop music (and its relevant
     ancillaries) serve as a link between the races. (This is not novel territory
     for features;
WHITEBOYS filtered the same premise through Iowa farm
     boys who fancied themselves rappin' "gangstas.") Toback has stated that
     he worked closely with members of the Wu-Tang Clan to ensure the
     authenticity of the film, yet despite all these purported good intentions,
     something is missing. Perhaps it is a sense of history. The culture of
     white Americans has often subsumed ethnic influences, especially in
     terms of music. Consider that jazz, rhythm and blues, even rock and roll
     were idioms of Black culture that were transubstantiated into something
     "popular." It was a given that inevitably white teens would embrace
     hip-hop and rap.

             James Toback has brought together a large and intriguing cast
     drawn from the worlds of modeling (Bijou Phillips, Claudia Schiffer),
     acting (Brooke Shields, Ben Stiller), athletics (Allan Houston, Mike Tyson)
     and music (Power, Raekwon) to enact his theory. Parts of the film
     were scripted (the subplot involving Schiffer, Stiller and Houston) while
     much of it was improvised and that dichotomy makes for uneven results.
     Right from the start, Toback set out to shock and confront the audience.
     He opens on school kids running across a threesome in
flagrante delicto
     in Central Park and quickly moves to the posh home of one of the girls
     (the squeaky-voiced Phillips), a disaffected teen who sports a fake
     gold tooth and discourses in the rap vernacular much to the chagrin
     of her upper crust parents (John Bolger and Marla Maples). Phillips
     and her fellow students (who include Gaby Hoffman, Eddie Kaye
     Thomas and Elijah Wood) are approached by a dreadlocked
     documentary filmmaker (Shields) and her fey husband (an
     over-the-top Robert Downey Jr.)  to appear in a film Shields wants
     to shoot about white kids who like hip-hop. Revolving around this band
     are Houston's ballplayer who is bribed to throw a game, his grad student
     girlfriend (Schiffer) who expresses disappointment in his decision, the
     cop (Stiller) who set him up and then blackmails him into ratting out a
     childhood buddy (Power) which in turn leads to a murder.

             Overstuffed with plot and containing acting that ranges from
     amateurish to polished,
BLACK AND WHITE, which fails to deliver
     on Toback's premise, contains something to offend everyone. There
     are moments that crackle -- notably unscripted confrontations between
     Mike Tyson and Robert Downey Jr. and Tyson and Brooke Shields, but
     they are too few to redeem this mess. In attempting to do too much,
     Toback accomplishes nothing.

                                             Rating:       F
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.