By William Wolf

BAMBOOZLED  Send This Review to a Friend

Would any director other than Spike Lee have the guts to attempt what he tries to pull off in "Bambozled?" Writer-director Lee uncorks an outrageously nervy satire that takes aim at racism with a ploy that others probably would have been too timid to try. An African-American television executive, Pierre Delacroix, played by Damon Wayans with a stilted accent that sounds as if he is putting on airs, comes up with a novel idea meant to boost a TV station's sagging ratings. Why not put on a minstrel show with black actors in blackface doing all the corny, racist routines of the minstrel shows of old? This one would be called "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show." Michael Rapaport is over-the-top funny as Dunwitty, the gung-ho, insensitive white boss who buys the idea.

Manray, played with quiet grace by phenomenal tap dancer Savion Glover, is chosen to be renamed Mantan, and Womack (Tommy Davidson) is cast as Sleep 'n Eat. A band is called the Alabama Porch Monkeys. An album of stereotypes is resurrected for the program, and the n-word is used ad infinitum. Even the studio audience shows up in blackface. You get the idea. The show is uninhibitedly racist and crude, and often very funny in its politically incorrect audacity. There's one trouble: The venture becomes a big hit, although it draws the ire of militant blacks, such as Reverand Al Sharpton, playing himself.

Now Spike Lee, the creator, has an artistic problem. What do you do with this spotlight on racism? Trying to turn the situation into a more positive observation causes plot problems and the film becomes something of a shambles and not nearly as compelling as the first, more inventive portion. Tensions develop between Delacroix and his assistant Sloan (Jada Pinkett-Smith), with whom he had an affair. There's an armed Mau Mau rap group, and the action takes a violent turn. Screenplay problems aside, the film gains considerably from a strong supporting cast.

Lee ultimately closes with an effective finale--a pointed montage of racist clips from movies and cartoons that demonstrate the extent to which racism permeated the entertainment industry in the past. "Bamboozled," perversely funny for the first hour or so, is a satire that should be seen if only because Lee has attacked racism in such an original way. A New Line Cinema release.


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