Black and White

on April 07, 2000 by Susan Green
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With overlapping dialogue, a big cast of interwoven characters, a plot that involves an assassination and Brooke Shields as a filmmaker documenting everything she sees with a Geraldine Chaplinesque intrusiveness, "Black and White" is surely James Toback's "Nashville" wannabe. The curious film doesn't quite work on that level, but it does offer its own compelling bleak vision of America in the late 1990s.
Writer/directo r Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy") obviously began with a question that might intrigue many people: Why does the indigenous hip-hop culture of the African-American community exert such a hold on Caucasian youth? While he never provides a complete answer, the movie is a frenzied yet rambling look at the forces in society that prompt people to replace an unfashionable identity with one that's more alluring.
Charlie (a very adept Bijou Phillips) is an upper-middle class New York teenager who has reinvented herself with street talk and gestures to impress some tough black Harlem rappers-specifically Rich (Power of Wu-Tang Clan), the ringleader. Her white classmate (Elijah Wood) is jealous but admires the "gangstas" as much as his peers all do. Sam (Shields) is married to Terry (Robert Downey Jr. at his comic best), who is actually gay and forever making passes at other men. When he approaches Mike Tyson, the two have a hilarious but, in light of Downey's subsequent jail term, ironic exchange about parole. Claudia Schiffer plays Greta, the brainy and calculating girlfriend of a college basketball hero named Dean (Allan Houston). When an undercover cop (Ben Stiller) bribes him to throw a game, it upsets the balance of Dean's lifelong friendship with Rich.
The topical, satirical nature of the story is sometimes eclipsed by Toback's own apparent need to show that he's down with the boys in the 'hood. Starring Bijou Phillips, Robert Downey Jr. and Brooke Shields. Written and directed by James Toback. Produced by Ron Rotholz. A Palm release. Comedy/drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 98 min.
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