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Spike Lee, in confrontational mode, serves up a new generation's Putney Swope, the blaxploitation-era satire by Robert Downey (Jr.'s father) about a black takeover of a Madison Avenue ad agency. The comparable premise here concerns a prissy Harvard-educated African-American TV executive (Damon Wayans), under pressure from his blacker-than-thou white boss (Michael Rapaport: "I don't give a goddam what Spike Lee said. Tarantino was right: 'nigger' is just a word") to come up with something "different ... impactful ... cutting-edge." What he comes up with is The New Millennium Minstrel Show, complete with burnt-cork blackface and mile-wide lipstick, starring the nouvelle vaudeville team of Mantan and Sleep-n-Eat: "two real coons." This seems a fair enough exaggeration (never mind the impossibility in the PC age that such a thing could become, as suggested, a big hit) of the black programming on television today and yesterday. But the satire is badly garbled in the mixed motives of the show's creator. On the one hand, upset at the cancellation of his pet project (Brown-Nose Jones) after thirteen episodes, he is simply hoping to get himself fired so that he can sue the network, never dreaming that his new idea would take root and blossom. On the other hand, he is militantly wheeling it forward as a weapon to expose and eradicate racial stereotypes. Well, which is it? -- career suicide or cultural assault? And the effectiveness of the piece is further blunted by Lee's remedial efforts within the movie itself to explain to us what satire is, and his repeated hints and assurances that this movie is a bona fide example of it. When all is said and done, the only really shocking thing about the movie is the god-awful video image: the washed-out color, the flattened perspective, the blurry focus, the fuzzy edges, the scummy surface. (2000) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 2 hours, 15 minutes
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