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Race Relations a la MTV

Black and White is shallow but fun

James Toback's new film Black and White is a fast-paced quick-talking and entertaining glimpse into the relationships between a group of black gangsters cum rappers and white rich kids. It is supposed to be a dialogue on race relations, but it is more of a bullshit session on black and white stereotypes and hip hop than anything else.
The Harlem gangster Rich Bower (Oli "Power" Grant) and his crew are at the epicenter of a motley bunch of groupies, one very bitter cop, and other wide-eyed followers. While Bower is working on becoming a rapper he is being flocked by a group of wealthy prep school kids, including whiny, self-important eye-candy Charlie (Bijou Phillips), who have embraced hip-hop culture as the epitome of coolness. In turn, the kids are being followed around by a documentary filmmaker named Sam Donager (Brook Shields sporting dreads and a nose ring) and her constant companion Terry (the ever-so-weird Robert Downey Jr.). Sam is making a documentary on white kids who love "black" culture, and her tirade of questions provides the fuel for the film's so-called racial dialogue. However, Black and White is actually less about being black or being white and more about money, power and attitude.

These facets are best portrayed through various side stories that weave one way or the other into Bower's life. For ex.ple, his childhood friend Dean (Allan Houston of the New York Knicks), a college basketball star, gets bribed to throw a game by Mark Clear (Ben Stiller). The bribe turns out to be a scam and Dean is faced with a dilemma that forces him to make a choice between himself and Bower. C.plicating the scenario is Dean's cold, power-hungry girlfriend Greta (Claudia Schiffer), whose aloofness makes you cringe.

The fairly c.plex story line and the strange blend of actors add an engaging dimension to the film. Just having Method Man and Oli "Power" Grant cast alongside Marla Maples and Brook Shields is enough to capture your attention. Although Black and White relies heavily on the shock value of its diverse cast, the actors give honest performances. As in Toback's last feature Two Girls and a Guy, the actors all have fresh and witty exchanges; their energy is intimate and accessible. Many times, you even feel like a voyeur secretly witnessing two friends speaking to one another rather than watching a scripted film.

Ultimately, there's a lot of talk in Black and White but no real discussion. The movie is as deep as a 10-second MTV Veejay segment. However, the film's hyper edits and camerawork keep your attention from straying, while the array of actors cast against type present you with curious, little surprises around every corner.


Black and White
rated R
1 hour 40 minutes

Allan Houston
Method Man
Joe Pantoliano
Mike Tyson
Scott Caan
Robert Downey Jr
Brooke Shields