EW Staff
October 05, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Bamboozled

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
135 minutes
Limited Release Date
10/06/00
Wide Release Date
10/20/00
performer
Savion Glover, Jada Pinkett Smith, Damon Wayans, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Sarah Jones (Writer), Paul Mooney, Mos Def, Michael Rapaport, Gillian Iliana Waters
director
Spike Lee
Producers
40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks
distributor
New Line Cinema
author
Spike Lee
genre
Drama, Comedy

We gave it a C+

Few American filmmakers crank it up as boldly or as flashily as Spike Lee; just as few are capable of mucking it up so infuriatingly while staring the audience down as if to say, ”What’s YOUR problem?”

And nothing Lee has done is as flashy or as mucked up as Bamboozled, an obstreperous rant that excoriates both blacks and whites for the image of blacks in (white) majority popular culture, punishes every character, and hectors every viewer without mercy — or logic. So acrid is the indictment, yet so muddled the arguments, that Lee feels compelled to include the dictionary definition of the word ”satire.”

And, in fact, there IS a good satire stuck in one corner of ”Bamboozled”’s circus of stereotypes: Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans), a Harvard educated TV writer — the only person of color in the conference room — is under pressure from his ”yo I’m a homey” white boss (Michael Rapaport) to come up with a hip ratings grabber for a young urban audience. Hoping he’ll be fired, Delacroix creates ”Mantan the New Millennium Minstrel Show,” a variety show of shucking, jiving, tap dancing black performers in blackface, who haul out the most offensive racist stereotypes of America’s culpable cultural past.

The show is a huge hit. (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in ”The Producers” could have predicted the success.) Then what happens? Dammit, the usual Lee pileup. Undisciplined, unpleasant scenes of ”equal opportunity” mockery — toward an angry rap group fronted by a radical hip hopper (Mos Def), toward a Jewish media consultant (Dina Pearlman), and, unrelentingly, toward Delacroix, whom Wayans plays, in a miscalculation, as an effete fop with a ridiculous ”cultured” accent — overwhelm the moments of real shock. For every sharply framed scene of the great tap dancer Savion Glover as Mantan and comedian Tommy Davidson as his sidekick Sleep ‘N’ Eat, a welter of jumpy, meaningless novelty act camera work (much of it digital video) jangles our eyes without striking a nerve.

”Bamboozled” is, in its own spiked way, Lee’s version of a Dogma movie (”Celebration” was an influence). But it’s also his own angrier, less persuasive version of the revolutionary TV series ”In Living Color” — Wayans and Davidson are alumni — which redefined modern, racially charged satire a decade ago. Did Lee really mean to out Wayans the Wayanses? Or did he just lose track of his targets?

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