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Bamboozled Reviews

Forget comparisons to NETWORK or the suggestion that this is a scathing satire of network television. Like most of Spike Lee's films, this is less a movie than a lecture in narrative form. The subject is racism in the mass media and the result is blunt but powerful, if only because the imagery it decries is so hateful. Fed up with seeing his ideas for positive, mainstream shows about African-Americans ignored, Harvard-educated Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans), CNS network's lone African-American writer, comes up with something so spectacularly offensive, he figures it will get him fired: "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show," starring African-American tap-dancer Manray (Savion Glover) and his partner, Womack (Tommy Davidson), as shuckin'-and-jivin' black-face stereotypes named Mantan and Sleep 'N' Eat. To Delacroix's shock, CNS's resident self-proclaimed white homeboy (Michael Rapaport) fast-tracks the program, positioning it as a hip parody of racist cliches. Of course it becomes a monster hit, even though it's as lame as it is offensive (one of Lee's subtler suggestions is that "Mantan" succeeds not because viewers are stupid enough to think it's funny but because it validates their most secret prejudices). Lee is, as always, mad as hell, but his fury isn't reserved for white people this time; he's equally angry at African-Americans who help perpetuate degrading stereotypes. If Quentin Tarantino takes one on the chin for making light of the "N" word, there's another waiting for Cuba "Show me the money!" Gooding Jr., with the specter of self-hatred (conscious or not) defining the principal character and haunting the others. As is his wont, Lee errs on the side of bombast: The faux TV commercials for Da Bomb malt liquor and Timmi Hillnigger clothes would sting more if he'd simply mimicked their real-life counterparts rather than just exaggerating outrageously. But there's no arguing with the extended montage of degrading snippets from movies, TV shows and cartoon images that Lee inserts near the movie's end, which stops dead whatever's left of the story. But if pictures truly speak louder than words, perhaps Lee simply should have made a documentary.