Friday October 8, 1999
To those with a fervent belief in the positive energy of cultural crossover, "Whiteboys" offers a stern test--if not a hesitant leap--of faith. The movie documents accurately the capacity of pop culture to make mongrels of its consumers. But it doesn't quite know (or want to know) what to make of it.
"Whiteboys" is basically a travelogue of a glandular state of mind; belonging, in this case, to Flip (co-writer Danny Hoch), a gawky white kid from Iowa's corn country transfigured by the signals he picks up from MTV and the mall's record rack into a gold-chain-wearing, slow-walking, quick-rhyming, self-styled "B-boy." He's so deep into "blackness" that the mother of Flip's only African American friend (Eugene Byrd) wonders if he's Creole.
Flip's generation of white kids isn't the first to be galvanized by the seeming "freedom" of African American culture. Nor is he the first to believe that internalizing some of the broad aspects of this culture entitles him to the assumed "privileges" of outlaw life. His ideas of "being white" and "being black" are informed solely by media images that contrast with the seeming blandness of his daily life.
It never once occurs to Flip that having a bitter, unemployed father and a mother forced to buy groceries with food stamps links him more authentically to the urban street life he finds so glamorous. Nor does it occur to him that the aforementioned black friend, given the choice between being "down" with the street action and opting for upward mobility, will choose the latter in a heartbeat. At some point, Flip heads on a road trip to Chicago with his "posse" to score some drugs. When he comes to the forbidding Cabrini Green housing project, Flip points as if it were the Lincoln Memorial. Does it turn out bad? Hey-yo, do bullets hurt?
Director Marc Levin, whose critically acclaimed "Slam" showed a far more assured grasp of the Washington, D.C., street subculture it documented, tries to bring some of the same stylistic invention to Flip's crossover dreams. One amusing morsel of surrealism takes place in Flip's conception of prison life as one fat power trip, complete with buffet.
But despite the presence of such rap eminences as Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, there's something about "Whiteboys" that makes one wonder whether what's proclaimed as "hip-hop nation" really has the goods to transcend as much as it dominates pop culture. Because when all is said and done, Flip doesn't come across as cultural avatar so much as a new subspecies of clueless hick.
Whiteboys, 1999. R, for pervasive language, substance abuse, some violence and sexuality. Fox Searchlight Pictures presents, in association with BAC Films and Le Studio Canal, an Offline Entertainment Group production. Director Marc Levin. Producers Henri Kessler, Richard Stratton and Ezra Swerdlow. Executive producers David Peipers, John Sloss. Screenplay by Garth Belcon & Danny Hoch and Marc Levin & Richard Stratton, based on a story by Belcon & Hoch. Cinematographer Mark Benjamin. Editor Emir Lewis. Costume designer Carolyn Greco. Executive music producer Steve Gottlieb. Production designer David Doernberg. Art director Amy Silver. Set decorator Dewey Ambrosino. Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes. Danny Hoch as Flip. Dash Mihok as James. Mark Webber as Trevor. Piper Perabo as Sara. Eugene Byrd as Khalid. Bonz Malone as Darius.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times