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Black And White


Black And White

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In his last film, the underrated improvisational comedy Two Girls And A Guy, writer-director James Toback used the kinky promise of its title as a playful tease into the ambiguous and elastic nature of sexual identity. His follow-up, Black And White, finally consummates the three-way with a softcore opening rendezvous in Central Park, but the new participants—two teenage white girls and a black guy—change matters entirely. Never one to soft-pedal provocative issues, Toback delivers a reckless freestyle rant on hip-hop culture and interracial relationships that's all the more embarrassing for being so direct. His main target is the crossover between affluent white urban teens (Bijou Phillips, Gaby Hoffmann, and Elijah Wood, among others) and the Harlem gangstas (including Raekwon and Power) whose lifestyle they appropriate. A premise this incendiary could foil even the most delicate director, but in Toback's hands, it turns into a preachy and hopelessly misguided fiasco. Black And White spills over with ideas about the blurring of class and racial lines, but rather than find subtle ways to dramatize them, Toback settles for abrasive straight talk. When the kids aren't speaking directly into documentarian Brooke Shields' camera or engaging in a classroom "discussion" with teacher Jared Leto, he actually has Claudia Schiffer read from a grad-school thesis on cultural anthropology. Among many disposable subplots, one with Ben Stiller as a degenerate gambler who bribes a star basketball player (the New York Knicks' Allan Houston) to throw a game is the lone standout; its truths about modern forms of racism hint at what might have been. But little else in Black And White is remotely convincing, and much of it is grossly offensive, especially Toback's dim view of his female characters, who are either trophies, devious shrews, or both. For a film that looks forward to a future of racial and sexual harmony, its divisive worldview seems stuck in the past.