Copyright © 2000 by Michael Segers, All rights reserved


Bamboozled Bamboozles




Damon Wayans

Savion Glover

Michael Rapaport

Jada Pinkett-Smith

Tommy Davidson

Written and directed by

Spike Lee

Rated R for language and adult references

Runtime: 135 minutes


There will be a lot of gnashing of teeth and feelings of guilt about this film, and I have to add my own feelings of guilt. I really wanted to like this film, but I just can’t. Ironically (and, near the beginning of the film, there is a definition of irony), what I was looking forward to in this film is the very thing that leaves me unhappy with it. It is a film with a noble thought—an examination and criticism of racist stereotypes in American popular culture—but it is a film without much else. A noble thought alone cannot make a great film. A great film must have heart.

Recently I reviewed and grudgingly appreciated Remember the Titans, which, although it also deals with racial issues, has perhaps too much heart. But, at least, there is something to like, someone to relate to and to care about. But without an emotional connection to any of the characters, Bamboozled fails to connect with its audience.

Pierre Delacroix (Wayans) is a Harvard-educated TV writer at a small network who, to get out of his contract, creates a show sure to offend everyone, Mantan: The New Millenium Minstrel Show, complete with blackface and watermelons. But (are we all thinking of The Producers and its Springtime for Hitler yet?) the show becomes outrageously (in several senses of the word) popular. And that leads to a bizarre intrusion of real life into the television studio with an obvious nod to Network (which, by the way, I caught again on cable a few months ago, and it has held up quite well).

So far, so good, except that Lee, as he has done before, goes too far. This movie seems not to have been made but assembled, with its satirical energy just worn out by having too many targets: do we really need to see Bugs Bunny in blackface? At times, I was not sure which movie was going to win out—a documentary about racist stereotypes, a heavy-handed satire about racist stereotypes, or a messy melodrama which to some degree relies upon racist stereotypes. I said about Lee’s Summer of Sam that its length was its worst problem, and I have to repeat that complaint about Bamboozled. From the heavy-handed definitions at the beginning to the awkward attempts at plot and character development at the end, Lee tries to bamboozle the audience into believing that this is a fully developed movie and not just a sort of director’s notebook.

Lee is not an "actor’s director," a director who creates opportunities and inspiration for his actors. There is only one sequence in the film where I feel the actors are doing more than just walking through their paces. In what is as painful a scene as I have ever seen, the two main actors in the television show (Glover, Davidson) almost ritualistically put on blackface. Their eyes peer out of their disfigured faces as if they are peering out of a void, with more emotion than any of the rest of the film shows.

For all of Lee’s very justifiable anger, the film as a whole is not very moving. Other than Delacroix, none of the characters is fully developed enough for us to care about, and Delacroix is simply one of the least empathetic characters ever caught on film.

Well, much of what I feel about this film I’ve already put into words in my review of Summer of Sam

Steve Rhodes offers one view of this film—

Peter G. Helfrich offers a very different view—

I don’t usually link to a film’s official site, but this time, I’ll leave you with my usual wishes that you keep your feet dry and your heart full of noble thoughts and let Spike Lee have the last words—



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