Wednesday April 5, 2000
Having written "Bugsy" (1991) and "The Gambler" (1975) and having directed what some feel was among the great debuts in American film--"Fingers" (1977)--James Toback carries around a credibility that's belied by almost every movie he's subsequently made (most recently 1998's "Two Girls and a Guy").
Add to this his much-publicized private life and views thereof--the basis, presumably, for his overrated "The Pick-Up Artist" of 1987--and you can't help but view every Toback project as the Freudian projection of a fevered libido.
In "Black and White," Toback explores the fascination among white teenagers--Manhattanites in this case--for hip-hop culture and, by Toback's extension, the lure of black sexuality. Think "Kids" meets "Jungle Fever" meets Norman Mailer's hipster opus "The White Negro."
Add to this the stunt casting of people like model-actress Claudia Schiffer, boxer Mike Tyson, New York Knick Allan Houston and Toback regular Robert Downey Jr. as the weird, gay (and funny) husband of filmmaker Brooke Shields and "Black and White" starts to resemble such star-crusted movies as 1992's "Where the Day Takes You," in which a mob of fashionable faces (Will Smith, Ricki Lake, Lara Flynn Boyle, Alyssa Milano, David Arquette, etc.) pooled their resources to make a statement about the homeless in Hollywood. It was this short of laughable.
Likewise, "Black and White" features a herd of emerging talent--Bijou Phillips, Gaby Hoffmann, Elijah Wood, Jared Leto, Scott Caan--and is laughable in its way.
But it's also hard, excuse me, impossible, to watch "Black and White" and not imagine that what you're watching are the voyeuristic indulgences of a middle-aged filmmaker playing out his most deep-seated and unresolved sexual fantasies and anxieties.
The three-way interracial alfresco sex scene that begins the movie is indeed a startling way to open a picture, and more startling when we realize what buttons Toback thinks he's pushing. The exploitation and sexual commodification of black men is a valid point for Toback to make--in a movie that does its share of exploiting black men.
Easily the weirdest scene in a weirdly disjointed movie is one in which Tyson, playing himself, urges Harlem rapper Rich Bower (Power of Wu Tang Clan) to commit murder. You wonder if Tyson had his parole officer vet the script and doubt Toback ever thought to suggest it.
Black and White, 2000. R for strong sexuality, graphic language, some violence and drug use. Screen Gems presents, in association with Palm Pictures, a film by James Toback. Written and directed by James Toback. Producers Michael Mailer, Daniel Bigel, Ron Rotholz. Executive producers Hooman Majd, Edward R. Pressman, Mark Burg, Oren Koules. Director of photography David Ferrara. Production designer Anne Ross. Editor Myron Kerstein. Costume designer Jacki Roach. Music supervisor Oli "Power" Grant. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog. John Tormey as Louie. Sonny Valerio as Cliff Gorman. Frank Minucci as Big Angie. Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank. Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo. Henry Silva as Ray Vargo. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Aaron Eckhart as George. Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen. Cherry Jones as Pamela Duncan. Peter Coyote as Kurt Potter. Shane West as Ryan. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Ashley. Marla Sokoloff as Maggie. Richard Schiff as Gym coach. Aaron Paul as Floyd. Chris Klein as Kelley. Leelee Sobieski as Samantha. Josh Hartnett as Jasper. Michael Rooker as Jasper's father. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria. Margherita Buy as Caterina. Silvio Orlando as Ernesto. Carolina Freschi as Teresa. Alessandro di Natale as Gabriele. Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce. Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. Janet McTeer as Caroline Pierce. Hal Holbrook as Isaac Green. Cameron Van Hoy as Stevie. Mischa Barton as Rocky. Burt Reynolds as Daniel Bender. Adam Farrar as Wheelchair Man. Nancho Novo as Max. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Monica. Ingrid Rubio as Yeye. Beatriz Santiago as Maria. Gustavo Salmeron as Alberto. Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad. Hossein Mahjub as Hashem. Salime Feizi as Granny. Elham Sharim as Hanyeh. Farahnaz Safari as Bahareh. Aidan Gillen as Francis. Emmanuelle Seigner as Gloria. Susan Tyrrell as Sal. Mark Boone Jr. as Vic. Joshua Jackson as Luke McNamara. Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake. Hill Harper as Will Beckford. Leslie Bibb as Chloe. Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson. John Cusack as Rob. Iben Hjejle as Laura. Todd Louiso as Dick. Jack Black as Barru. Lisa Bonet as Marie De Salle. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief. Scott Caan as Scotty. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry. Stacy Edwards as Sheila. Gaby Hoffman as Raven.