Black and White

It starts in New York's central Park. Drug lord turned hip-hop empire builder Rich Bower, played by Power of Wu-Tang Clan, leans against a tree while two rich white teens (Bijou Phillips and Kim Matulova) use him as a sex sandwich.

Connoisseurs will recognize this grab-ass moment as the work of James Toback, a writer and director (FingersTwo Girls and a Guy) who doesn't observe the niceties of Merchant-Ivory cinema. Still, this largely improvised flick about white obsession with black culture is whacked, even for Toback.

Brooke Shields shows up in dreadlocks as Sam Donager, a documentary filmmaker eager to record this obsession for posterity. At Rich's crib, Sam brings along her gay husband, Terry (a subtly explosive Robert Downey Jr.), who makes a play for Mike Tyson, who portrays himself with frightening verisimilitude. That's when the lisping champ calls Terry a "come guzzler" and starts choking him while Sam keeps filming.

Audiences will call "Black and White" many things, most of them unflattering. The blend of actors and non-actors can throw you. Model Claudia Schiffer struggles futilely with the role of Greta, the manipulative graduate student who lives with Dean (Allan Houston of the New York Knicks), a basketball star who takes a bribe from the cop (Ben Stiller) who used to live with Greta. And, look: It's Marla Maples as a trophy wife, and there's Raekwon and Method Man.

What's a fifty-ish white guy like Toback doing with this crowd? Fucking with us, as usual. But this lively mess proves that when Toback loses his head, he does it with style.

From The Archives Issue 839: April 27, 2000