Satire works best when its roots lie firmly in reality. Best In Show is hilarious because it is easy to imagine people acting so inanely. Take satire too far and it becomes meaningless. The first half of Bamboozled is brilliant satire. But somewhere along the way, writer/director Spike Lee (Summer of Sam, He Got Game) loses his way and turns the movie into a farce. As a director, Lee has his fingers firmly on the pulse of racism in America. Lately, his efforts are straying from one unifying theme, which does not seem to be a problem here. The problem here is that a good idea run amoks, rendering his social message nearly moot. Still, there are strong moments in Bamboozled that are certainly worthy of attention.

Bamboozled revolves around the victimization of African-Americans in popular culture. Television shows portray them as criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes, lazy, and usually lower class. Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans, Goosed, Bulletproof) is working to change this. As an executive at a national network, he tries to create shows that appeal to the middle class blacks, a group he feels is out there. Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport, The 6th Day, Small Time Crooks) is his boss, and is 'blacker' than Delacroix. Delacroix is as whitebread as they come. He speaks with a pretentious accent, and aside from his skin color, is basically white. Dunwitty throws the 'n' word around as if he was African-American. He tells Delacroix to create a new Afro-centric show for him, and Delacroix, disgusted with the whole affair, decides to create a show so horrible and offensive that nobody will want it to air.

The New Millennium Minstrel Show is the result of his efforts. He takes every single stereotype about African Americans and combines them into one variety show. The stars dance, sing and live in a watermelon patch. The band is a bunch of ex-convicts. The big lips are there, and there is an Aunt Jemima character. Even worse, the African-American actors appear in blackface. Here, Lee is brilliant. With the quality of some of the shows appearing on national television, it is not hard to imagine The New Millennium Minstrel Show popping up on the fall schedule. Lee falters when he continues. Instead of getting the axe, Delacroix's show becomes a huge hit. Executives immediately green light it, and eventually fans show up to the show in blackface. Huh? Maybe once blackface was acceptable, but that day is long gone. Lee does show some protests, but the fact that people love the show is baffling. If anybody were to appear in blackface in today's society, they would incur the wrath of everybody (example: Ted Danson a couple years ago). Unfortunately, Lee spends a good amount of time showing the rise in popularity of The New Millenium Minstrel Show, and this ends up taking away a lot of the power from the initial scenes.

There are still many good performances here. It is nice to watch Wayans and fellow In Living Color alum Tommy Davidson (CB4, Strictly Business) actually act. They usually confine themselves to roles where they mug and act like idiots. The script here requires seriousness and depth, and both of them succeed. Davidson in particular, since he usually does nothing but clown around. Tap sensation Savion Glover (choreographer of Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk) is also impressive. Glover and Davidson are Sleep N' Eat and Mantan, Delacroix's two stars; dancing idiotic buffoons. Jada Pinkett Smith (Princess Mononoke, Set It Off) also does a good job as Sloan Hopkins, Delacroix's assistant, who initially goes along with his ploy but quickly becomes extremely offended. Lee manages to rein in his storyline once his characters' begin to listen to their consciences, but he quickly lets it spiral out of control again. The most powerful elements arrive at the end. As the credits roll, Lee displays shot after shot of demeaning 'toys' from times past. He also has a montage of scenes of from the golden years of cinema that shows some big time actors (including Mickey Rooney-the same guy who put on 'yellowface' in Breakfast at Tiffany's-man, does he want to offend everyone?) in and around blackface. These two montages speak volumes more than the rest of Bamboozled, and arecertainly worth the effort it takes to get there.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rate R for strong language and some violence.

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