In the 2000 film Bamboozled, Spike Lee presented a world in which a fed-up black television producer creates a “New Millennium Minstrel Show” full of racist stereotypes, which, to his chagrin, becomes a major television hit. Four short years later, we have Soul Plane, a film full of racist, sexist, and homophobic stereotypes, co-produced, directed, and co-written by black men, which will likely be a hit summer movie. Who ever expected Spike Lee to be so prescient?
The plot is beyond simple: a poor, young black man (Kevin Hart) from Inglewood, California, wins a $100 million lawsuit after an incident on a plane that is as humiliating as it is painful. Seeking to remedy the lack of color or even civility he experienced during his ordeal, he goes into the business, forming the eponymous, all-black Nashawn Wade Airlines (the initials, clearly, are not accidental). Hilarity, at least theoretically, ensues.
Those expecting an African-American Airplane! will be disappointed. This movie isn’t even as subtle as that. Jessy Terrero directs with little focus, less originality, and no sense of timing. The movie is packed full of African-American stars and up-and-comers from the worlds of comedy and hip hop, including many, such as Snoop Dogg (the only member of the Starsky and Hutch cast who seemed fully alive, here he’s criminally underused), D.L. Hughley, Mo’Nique, and John Witherspoon, who have proven their comic abilities in other, better movies and TV shows. In Terrero’s hands, though, their gifts are squandered.
Any humor that isn’t set in a bathroom or based on crude sexual innuendo (and sometimes, God save us, it’s both) isn’t allowed a chance to make an impression before we’re thrust into the next setup. And some of the jokes that aren’t based on bodily functions are actually so old their vaudeville roots show. The worst, though, are the times the action comes to a complete stop to make room for a love story so tacked-on we can practically see the Post-It curling at the edges.
Most of the comedy, such as it is, derives from a few simple premises:
Young black men are generally drugged-out, thugged-out, lazy, and undependable.
Black people love fried chicken and malt liquor.
Muslim men are terrorists.
White men are dull automatons of conformity, but are drawn to big black booty.
White women are sluts drawn to the sexual prowess and enormous penises of black men.
Gay men are swishy and sex-obsessed and shamelessly pursue straight men, who find them repugnant.
Latinas are sexually insatiable.
Tom Arnold is the only white actor in America desperate enough to take the terrible role of hapless Elvis Hunkee (OK, maybe that one’s valid).
It’s a real crash course in stereotypes, all of which could potentially be fodder for comedy were they not presented so cynically. White people are excoriated for their racism, while black people are depicted as fitting practically every negative stereotype imaginable. The worst, though, is the male flight attendant known only as “Flame” (and, boy, does he). As played by Gary Anthony Williams, not only does he mince and priss through every scene, licking his heavily glossed lips whenever a handsome man is near, I swear to God, in one scene he actually bugs his eyes out, Stepin Fetchit-style, simultaneously embodying every offensive parody of either group.
It’s a shame to see all this done so badly when there clearly is a way to do it well. The original Friday included some of the same sort of humor and at least one of the same actors (John Witherspoon), and it was both uproariously funny and affectionate toward its characters.
There are two major differences: Friday had a plot and it had heart. There was empathy in the humor, and the movie had someplace it needed to go. There’s none of that here, and even those who get caught up in the jokiness are likely to walk out of the theater feeling empty. They’ll pay their $10.25 expecting a full tub of popcorn, but when they get to their seats all they’ll find is a few charred kernels.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()