Black And White (1999)


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Black And White (1999) Review

A very unique and brutal subculture exists in America these days. It's a strange juxtaposition of harsh street life and uber-materialistic greed tempered with a sense of justifiability from a code of unwritten ethics. The world is that of the gangsta rappers, the ghetto boys, and the thug-life advocators that dominate the world of hip-hop and rap music. Black and White, the latest film by James Toback, explores this subculture that grows stronger with every new generation it affects.

The hardest thing about an outsider trying to infiltrate a subculture and explain it to the masses is that the truth is often lost in the translation. Toback throws together a huge canvas of characters and actors in attempt to create a clear picture of why white kids are motivated to impersonate black rappers' lifestyles and why rich whit guys treat black rappers like Arnold and Willis from Diff'rent Strokes.

Everybody is in this film. Brooke Shields and Robert Downey Jr play documentarians trying to capture the essence behind the influence of the hip-hop movement on Generation Y kids. Ben Stiller is a cop trying to take down one of the hip-hop artists portrayed in the film by Power (of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan). A crop of newer faces - Jared Leto, Gaby Hoffman, Scott Caan, William Lee Scott - appear throughout in the film in various supporting roles. But the strangest casting for the film, I must admit, is Mike Tyson. The scary thing is that he pulls off a decent job. Which is a selling point of the movie: Overall, the film is filled with actors stretching their acting chops and trying to work against type and prove they're above their usual mediocre material.

Toback directs the actors in the film to improv their way through a roughly written script and, in turn, try to make some sense of the strange plot twists. Some of the scenes work well, especially one where Robert Downey Jr hits on Mike Tyson, but some of the scenes have that "movie of the week" feeling. The main fault with the film is that it fails to make any real statement about its subject matter or explain much about the actions of the characters. Was Toback's intent to explore the hip-hop culture or simply to exploit it like the rich, white guys in the film? Then again, that's how he cast himself in the movie. And you know, I guess that's what he really is.

I said a-hip, hop...