You Might Think Toback Is Whack But He Ain't No Hack
Richard Ross | 08/31/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is probably the most in your face and ridiculous film James Toback has ever made which is no small claim considering his filmography. I say that because it's the easiest film of his to mock and disregard as a dumb movie. That's partly because of the way it was marketed as being about rich white kids (Bijou Philips, Elijah Wood, and Eddie Kaye Thomas) who try to imitate their hip hop idols by dressing and talking like them. We've all encountered our fair share of people like that and indeed we laugh at them and don't take them seriously. I'm not claiming that Toback gives us some kind of psychological insight into why people act like that but when you have actors as talented as Philips and Kaye Thomas you pay attention to them and want to understand them. The film is much more than white kids trying to act black. It's too much more in fact since Toback throws in too many different characters and subplots that all hinge on certain outcomes that don't seem realistic. There's a former gangster (Power) who's trying to go legit as a rap producer, a D.A. (Joe Pantoliano) trying to come to grips with his sons immersion into the thug life, a college basketball player (Allan Houston) who gets propositioned by a gambler (Ben Stiller) to throw a game for $50,000, the basketball player's girlfriend (Claudia Schiffer) who has eyes for his friend, and a group of white kids (including Scott Caan) opening a nightclub in the gangster's turf. Chronicling all of this is documentary filmmaker Sam Donager (Brooke Shields) and her husband Terry (Robert Downey Jr.). Sam initially follows the kids around and through their interactions meets all the other players including Mike Tyson. Tyson plays himself in the film and he is absolutely brilliant. I haven't mentioned yet that most of the film was improvised. Toback provided the actors with an outline of what the scenes were about and let them come up with their own dialogue. Keeping that in mind watch those scenes with Tyson, especially one where he counsels Power who's thinking about having someone killed, and marvel that Tyson came up with that dialogue himself. Toback couldn't have scripted it better. Or take a scene where Downey (whose character is gay) hits on Tyson and watch how quick Tyson turns from passive to violent. It's stuff like that and the brilliant performances of Philips, Stiller, Shields, and Downey that make this film exciting in spite of all the other B.S. Toback throws into the mix. I strongly recommend that you watch this movie twice in order to get a fuller understanding and appreciation of it. The DVD has two extended improvs, one featuring Tyson and Downey Jr. and the other between Bijou and her teacher (Jared Leto). The commentary track by Toback is easily his worst. He sounds stoned here and slurs his words a lot. If you're a fan of the movie and really wanted to learn more about it's creation it's a big letdown hearing Toback in this kind of shape. Easily one of the most uncomfortable commentaries I've ever listened to. The film has moments of pure genius but you really have to get past all the hype and posturing to appreciate them."