"If [the movie] is a disaster, it's at least going to be an interesting disaster," Brooke Shields has said about James Toback's Black and White, in which she plays a documentary filmmaker who's interested in the cultural exchange between a group of rich white kids and a group of rich black gangsters who want to be rap stars. The spread of hip-hop culture to the remotest regions of White America (even Iowa, as covered in Marc Levin's Whiteboys) is on a par with the spread of Christianity 2,000 years ago, and Toback is trying to get at what lies underneath the supposed racial détente--i.e., how both sides are using the other to satisfy their own needs. But the movie is indeed a disaster, and not always an interesting one. In telling a story about whites who have their noses pressed against the window of black culture, Toback comes off like...a white guy with his nose pressed against the window of black culture. Despite the documentary trappings, Black and White fails to keep it real.
How could it have done otherwise with a cast that includes, besides Shields, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Claudia Schiffer, Marla Maples, Mike Tyson and, from the Wu-Tang Clan, Oli "Power" Grant and Corey "Raekwon" Woods? Combining scripted dialogue with a lot of improvisation, Toback wants to catch the flavor of hip-hop, but he also throws in a plot about a D.A.'s son who agrees to murder a college basketball player, and the result is a mish-mash, a broad-canvas portrait of a community (à la Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing) that neither holds together nor comes to a head. The movie does stir briefly to life, however, when Tyson, playing himself, is approached by Downey, who's playing Shields' way-gay husband; improvisatory acting literally takes it on the chin when Downey propositions the former heavyweight champion. Toback must have wanted a movie full of such moments--black and white rubbing against each other and giving off sparks. Instead, there's mostly hot air.