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"Bamboozled"

Directed by Spike Lee.
Written by Spike Lee.
Starring Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  11/2/00

Folks-- 

So, as Keith “K-Dawg” Karem and I handed out candy on Tuesday night to all 11 kids that came to our house, we had a revelation.  Is there a better candy on God's green earth than Skittles?  Skittles are aMAZing, you know what I'm saying?  That flavor bursting into your mouth, the adrenaline shot to your wrist—a jolt that normally only Mountain Dew can provide?  The best food to have with you before a big 2 PM meeting—the time that food coma is most likely to strike with a vengeance—has got to be Skittles.  All you need is four or five of those things at once, and boom!  For all of your long meeting, boring lecture, art history 242 needs...there is only one cure—Skittles!

(Admit it:  of all the classes you took while at a university, none produced a better nap-per-class hour ratio than art history.  No one can survive the thunder that is the following phrase in an art history class:

“Okay, class, today we are going to look at some of the works of Van Gogh...Sally, can you get the lights for me?”

...and, that was it!  I mean, people were snoring during art history lectures, not just drooped forward while spilling drool all over the guy in front of them...out-and-out snoring!  I still don't know how I got a B in that class.)

Okay, sorry for the sidetrack.  Some of you may not know what “Bamboozled” is, and it is possible that by the time you read this review, it will be completely out of theaters.  There were only four people at the showing I went to yesterday...and, my theater is only showing it once per day!  “Bamboozled” is a Spike Lee movie

SPIKE LEE?  PFHHH....I'M OUTTA HERE, MAN!

Wait, man, wait!  I know that you don't normally like to watch Spike Lee movies, but this one is not half bad.  Anyway, “Bamboozled” is a comedy-drama about a struggling African-American television writer named Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) that, in the wake of his “Cosby Show”-like pilot getting yanked from the schedule at national network CNS, decides that the only way he will get some notice is to go above and beyond what most folks would think of as conventional television.  His idea?  He casts two street performers that tap dance outside of the CNS headquarters in New York city as Man-Tan (Savion Glover) and Sleep-n-Eat (Tommy Davidson) in a variety song-and-dance show based on the minstrel shows of early American television history.  To make the show even more offensive, Delacroix sets the show in a watermelon patch and then, gets an onstage band together called the Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by rap group The Roots)...and THEN makes sure that all of the characters onstage wear blackface.

Offended yet?

If not, there is plenty more!  The head honcho of the entertainment division, a New York-raised white man named Dunwitty (professional wigger Michael Rapaport, playing the same character he plays in every movie) hires a Scandinavian director to rewrite and direct the show, so Delacroix is only left as the creator of the show and therefore, responsible for its potential success or failure.  The director loads up the script with as much backhanded language as possible, so if you are not accustomed to hearing the words coon, monkey, nigga, or darkie much, you will get bombarded with them during this film.  Delacroix's assistant at CNS, nicknamed “Lamb” (Jada Pinkett Smith, hot and finally *acting*, not playing an trik), has serious problems with her boss' idea, but won't leave his side—much to the dismay of her brother, Big Black African (rapper Mos Def), who decides later in the film to make the production pay for its racist take on minstrel parodies.

I cannot think of the last time that I watched a film and was so shocked at what I saw on-screen.  This movie is loaded, and I mean *loaded*, with negativity about where blacks are in the scope of major entertainment, mostly television.  And, its outlandish, almost surreal, take on American viewing audiences employs more stereotypes than the last three Spike Lee movies combined...and, if you regularly watch his movies, you know that the man probably majored in stereotypes back in his film school days (daze?).  It is funny, talking about Spike Lee:  I think about ten people asked me (around the time this film came out, two weeks ago) the same question, “Do you like Spike Lee films?”  I generally do NOT like Spike's films—but I try and watch them all—and it is mostly because of this one thing:  I think that Spike often feels responsible to not just make a film, but make sure he covers a broad range of topics all in the same film.

Take a recent example:  “Summer of Sam”, which starred all manner of second-tier actors about people affected by the shooting deaths of some youths in 1977 New York City.  There has simply not been a more gratuitous movie made than this movie, and it is because Spike tries to get everything about the 70s into his 150-minute film.  You have got a group of five or six friends, you've got the big pennant race in baseball that year, you have got rampant drug use, the New York City club scene, a couple of mass orgies (!), the deterioration of a friendship between characters played by John Leguizamo and Adrian Brody, the deterioration of a relationship between Leguizamo and his unwitting girlfriend (Mira Sorvino)...oh, AND those pesky murders by the psycho, many of which we are treated to see.  It is very hard to do a cinematic potpourri over two hours, and like some of his other movies of late, Spike has not been as successful as he was in the late 80s and early 90s, with “School Daze”, “Do the Right Thing”, and “Jungle Fever.”

But, “Bamboozled” is full of agenda, and some of it comes off pretty humorously.  Two scenes in particular had me (and the other three folks in the theater) in stitches:  Delacroix holds an open audition for the Alabama Porch Monkeys, and some of the folks that show up, even though they might be heavily stereotyped, are fucking hilarious.  And, Spike does a great job mocking black fashion by featuring a made-up commercial during one of the in-movie show's commercial breaks.  The commercial is about Timmy Hillnigger Jeans and clothes, and it features a full array of rap-video staples like hot women in booty shorts (usually rubbing up against a Cadillac), thugs wearing heavy winter coats in the heat of summer while posing in front of graffiti-strewn walls...and, in the middle of it all, Timmy Hillnigger (played by Danny Hoch, one of the stars of the highly-underrated indie “Whiteboys”—rent it now) is rapping and dancing up a storm, talking about how easy it is to sell his clothes to black people.  You are shaking your head as you realize that it is wrong...and you are laughing at the same time.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in the first 3/4 of the movie, until the Glover and Davidson characters (the stars of the variety show) realize that they might be selling out by putting blackface on every night for entertainment.  The movie goes completely downhill from there and even gets gratuitously violent in the last 15 minutes, which is completely out of whack with the rest of the film.  But, the acting is superb, most notably by Glover, who is known mostly as the star of the New York production of “Bring in Da Noize, Bring in Da Funk.”  The man can flat-out act, not to mention that his dance skills—on display a few times during the movie, another plus--ain't nothing to complain about.

Interestingly enough, the movie did not offend me at all.  In fact, I think the best thing about it was that it didn't need to, because it covers territory that most movies are unwilling to cover and so “Bamboozled” will leave you a lot smarter about how black television shows used to be made as recently as the 1970s.  It has a subject matter that is really important in understanding how far black television, or really television as a whole, has come...and, how much farther it has to go.  It is clearly not the best take on the matter, but the film is *important*, the first really important film I have seen in a long time.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09