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Black and White Reviews

A rambling drama that purports to be a cutting-edge look at the infiltration of mainstream culture by hip-hop style and attitudes, and the ways in which black and white Americans look at each other across a thorny divide of prejudice and media-fueled envy. Professional provocateur James Toback follows a loosely connected cast of characters, black and white: Rap entrepreneur Rich Bower (Oli "Power" Grant of Wu-Tang Clan) hopes to shed his criminal past; his new hangers-on include rebellious rich kid Charlie (Bijou Phillips) and her thrill-seeking friends (they're in the middle of the sex scenes that have brought the film considerable notoriety). Rich's boyhood pal Dean (Allan Houston of the NBA's New York Knicks), a promising college basketball player, is being blackmailed by an undercover cop (Ben Stiller) who wants to bust Rich. Dean's snaky supermodel girlfriend Greta (Claudia Schiffer) is following her own hidden agenda, while dilettantish filmmaker Sam Donager (Brooke Shields), freaky husband (Robert Downey Jr.) in tow, is capturing everything for a documentary about white kids and hip-hop culture. Sadly, these "characters" are all so minimally developed that they're subsumed into the stunt casting. Hey, isn't that professional wild child Phillips acting out? Check out the real-life rappers! Did Robert Downey Jr. go straight from the set to jail? Schiffer's playing a supermodel writing her college thesis — didn't Christy Turlington just graduate from NYU? Shields's horrible hair, boxer Mike Tyson's lisp and Schiffer's accent are all more interesting than the so-called characters they're playing. The trouble isn't that other people (Norman Mailer, Lou Reed, Spike Lee, to name a few) have tackled the subject of race in America; there's plenty more to say. It's that Toback really doesn't have anything new to add, but pipes up anyway, in a film so strident and bombastic it makes Lee's work seem subtle and richly nuanced.