Twenty years ago, I sat in a theater waiting to see Stir Crazy and watched a couple of fellow patrons, who looked to be all of 9, saunter down to their seats doing a pitch-perfect imitation of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in the trailer (”That’s right — we bad!”). The movie hadn’t even started yet, and already these two knew its best gag by heart. They might have felt right at home watching Double Take, another racial-cartoon buddy movie that eagerly flogs its best laugh — indeed, its only laugh — in the trailer. Daryl (Orlando Jones), a refined Wall Street banker on the run from a drug cartel, has traded places with Freddy (Eddie Griffin), a nattering hustler whose bony, toothy face is engulfed in an explosion of flyaway hair. Daryl, launching into a shameless caricature of a ghetto lush, proceeds to chew out an Amtrak waiter for the crime of not having in stock any ”Schlitz! … malt! … licka!” Good joke. End of the movie’s humorous imagination.
Double Take is one of those ineptly laborious ”comic thrillers” in which the plot, which ought to be a rinky-dink skeleton for gags, ends up shooting off into more arbitrary convolutions than a script conference for Mission: Impossible 6. The hook of the movie is, or should have been, watching the yuppie and the street hustler at once mock and inhabit each other’s roles. Instead, they simply exchange outfits and act, for the most part, like their old predictable selves. Double Take celebrates a quaintly nostalgic, retro-’80s image of street-fashion insignia (Kangol caps, break dancing, gold chains that look like they just fell off the necks of Run DMC), and since Griffin, with his stylized croaky rasp, carries on like an idiot white movie executive’s idea of ”the new Chris Tucker,” the movie seems to be working overtime to make even its wildest performer look as harmless as possible. That’s not funny — it’s the Hollywood shuffle. D