Dark, biting satire of the television industry, focusing on an Ivy-League educated black writer at a major network. Frustrated that his ideas for a "Cosby Show"-esque take on the black family has been rejected by network brass, he devises an outlandish scheme: reviving the minstrel show. The hook: instead of white actors in black face, the show stars black actors in even blacker face. The show becomes an instant smash, but with the success also comes repercussions for all involved. Written by
N. Cognito <nobody@noplace>
The names of two characters are based on real performers of the past. "Mantan" came from Mantan Moreland and "Sleep 'n' Eat" was based on Willie Best, who was sometimes credited only as "Sleep 'n' Eat" in early films. See more »
such a mind-boggling shame because of the huge amount of ideas (some not bad) throughout
To give credit where it's due, Spike Lee is a genuine article, someone who came out of NYU and became one of the most recognizable personalities in film-making. His voice is his own, and whether working for a studio or on more independent terms it's always a "Joint". Is this always a marker of him hitting it out of the park every time? Not really. As if he was Jean-Luc Godard among the black filmmaker's circle, when he's on fire he's surely hot, and when he's not it's f***ing horrifying to see him fail. Bamboozled is one of those latter times, and it's so flawed in so many ways that it's a wonder that some of the good ideas come through in the mid-section. It's the kind of movie where one may like it more for what it could have been rather than what it is.
Bamboozled is meant to be, as Lee's character Delacroix (Damon Wayans) points out more than once both to the audience in dictionary definition and layman's terms, a satire. Thanks for the reminder, Spike! This is all well and good, but it's ultimately misguided and without a really solid comic viewpoint. In essence what Lee is after is a premise sort of out of Mel Brooks's the Producers; a creative guy down on his luck finds something to push that he thinks is so offensive and terrible that it won't run for very long, only to find that it becomes a surprise smash hit. Where Brooks had really funny and spot-on casting with Mostel and Wilder and characters to care about in their lunacy, Lee makes it a total mish-mash that is unnerving. And for every little moment, like the "ads" for the likes of Timmy Hill(n-word), there are a lot of satirical targets that just fall flat.
But back to the casting for a moment: Damon Wayans, both his performance and his character of Delacroix, is a total disaster. Maybe Wayans has done some good work in the past (ironically, as it's mentioned in the film as a point of reference for black variety shows, in In Living Color), but he makes the character sound totally off-key, sounding like a nerd with a bad accent and with mannerisms that are just awful. Whether or not the blame is Wayans or Lee's writing and direction is a 50/50 split; others like Davidson and Glover fare a little better, and Jada Pinkett Smith arguably delivers the best non-unreal performance of the lot. And Mos Def basically hadn't really become an actor quite yet, so his turn here is mostly as a spoof (a flat one at that as a gangster rapper). And don't get me started on Michael Rappaport, ugh!
Bamboozled goes up and down in its level of pretentiousness and ineptitude: for the first half an hour I wondered if I was really watching a movie by Spike "Do the Right Thing" Lee, as it's mostly shot in mini-DV camera style like some amateurs from a college film program in their first year. It doesn't even FEEL like any semblance of a real movie, save for some attempts at moving the plot forward (Rappaport's insistence on getting more "edgy" black images on TV to Delacroix, who responds with his brilliant put-on), until about forty-five minutes in. Then it starts to get slightly more interesting, though still problematic in filming style and performances (albeit I did enjoy, as filmed in 16mm, the Mantan sequences as a hyper-stylized set-piece, and the one scene with Delacroix and his stand-up comic father played by Paul Mooney).
But as Lee's polemic grows more dire and more serious, and as the circumstances of Womack and Manray's disagreement about what they're doing leads to a somewhat predictable, horribly melodramatic and preachy finale, I was ready to chuck my diet coke at the screen. Yet I stuck through to the end, and realized something during the final five or so minutes as the cavalcade of images in montage went by of American TV and movie history of black stereotypes (including the infamous Birth of a Nation racism); had Lee done much of what he's presented in Bamboozled as a real documentary- which is just as much if not more-so history lesson than satire- then he might be on to something with a better grip on minstrel shows and media-stereotypes. Instead, as with She Hate Me (though in a way not as entertainingly in a bad-movie sort of way), Lee vomits up all of his ideas in a spastic narrative, and only a few of them stick out. When they do stick out, it's cool to watch. When they don't, it's tiresome, scatter-shot, and ultimately very faulty in execution. 4.5/10
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