We're talking '80's, my friends. The time of Reaganomics, preppies, Hulk Hogan, and the Electric Boogaloo. Eddie Murphy was a relatively unknown cast member of Saturday Night Live. The Wayans Brothers were bit actors with a long road ahead. And Robert Townsend was the star black comic of the day. This is his film, a comedy about Hollywood, and it will take you back, brother, back to the '80s.
Rober Townsend plays the autobiographical Bobby Taylor, a fresh young actor trying desperately to leave his job at the wienie stand for a good movie role. A good role can make an actor's career and everyone in the film knows it. Eddie Murphy before Eddie Murphy, Bobby Taylor experiences a short list of events from audition to callback to offer to rehearsal about 30 minutes of story interspersed with glimpses into his rich fantasy life.
We see the black ex-Vietnam war mercenary, Rambro, the African American version of (ahem!) Sam Spade, the first black Superman, and more, all played by Townsend/ Taylor. The comedy is dated and triggered a nicely somnambulant feeling in me.
But the main thrust of the movie is its political message, simple, yet completely valid in my opinion: that Hollywood offers black actors a limited and limiting array of roles or did so in the early 80's. Drug pushers, pimps, prostitutes, and bad influences are the only roles there were. Heroes, even normal Jane's and Joe's who do right, were rarely played by blacks. The political message holds water, though now I can think of numerous examples of the opposite. Could the movie have had its desired effect? It's true that the Wayans went on to have their own television show and great successes at the box office. That doesn't make the video any less humdrum, but it does make it an interesting historical curio there's even break dancing.
For a real treat, though, I'd recommend Stormy Weather with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, "Fats" Waller, Mr. Bojangles and more. The message is similar and the entertainment value has not faded from this 40's black-and-white classic.
IN CINEMA 2:
Now that we've sipped a drought from the Reagan decade, let's pretend to sip another with A Night At the Roxbury. The two actors who created these roles on Saturday Night Live recreate Doug and Steve Bargusi (or something like that), two head-bobbing losers stuck in the 1980's club scene though it is now, clearly, more than a decade later. If you know SNL, then the pattern of beating the joke until it's good and dead, and then beating it two or three times more will be familiar turf for you. You'll also see Lorne Michaels' name all over the credits.
This film tells the classic "two pretty stupid guys who fulfill their singular dream through a series of well-timed accidents" story. The brothers start out by setting up their characters with very thorough rote. During act two, as you'd expect, things don't go so well, and the brothers have an argument. One of them is suckered into a marriage of convenience until the other one rescues him. The third act re-introduces the team of two, back and bad, and all the jokes are repeated again for that "feel-good" feeling. This may seem a vague structure to hang a full-length film upon, but it's filled in with head-bobbing, and more reprises of "Baby, Don't Hurt Me" than you could ever imagine possible a Hollywood record, no doubt!
The writers of this film have sagely averted the need for a sequel by allowing the film to quote itself endlessly. Gags from the first part of the movie are referenced again somewhere in the middle, and again near the end, and once again at the very end. If I haven't mentioned it, this film is repetitious. It's worth seeing if you've really seen every other film at your video store two or three times each (excluding anything by Oliver Stone).
Incidentally, I saw the shorter of the two brothers last weekend at Pike Street Market in Seattle. He was with a very tall blonde woman, and both were talking on cell phones as the crowd gave them a wide birth and snapped surreptitious photos of the demi-celebrity. Meanwhile, I bought some of the freshest, most flavorful tiger shrimp I've ever had.
Coming soon by request:
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.