Bamboozled (2000)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Damon Wayans, Michael Rappaport, Jada Pinkett, Tommy Davidson
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Promotional Art, Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer

There’s no denying that director Spike Lee can make a thought-provoking, polarizing film. Unfortunately, his outspoken nature tends to color the public perception of his work and his latest effort, "Bamboozled," is yet another in a long line of underattended and underappreciated Spike Lee Joints.

Damon Wayans stars as Pierre Delacroix, a black writer for the television network CNS whose every attempt to create an intelligent show aimed at the African-American audience has been dismissed by the market-survey driven suits upstairs who feel that their demographic data provides them with true insight into what the "black audience" really wants. Fed up with his boss, network VP Mr. Dunwitty (Michael Rappaport) who has co-opted for his white self a black lifestyle, he decides to weasel out of his contract by getting himself fired. And what better way to get fired from a TV job than to come up with a new program that’s sure to be considered offensive — "ManTan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show" featuring ManRay (Savion Glover) as ManTan and Womack (Tommy Davidson) as Sleep ’n’ Eat. Despite the fact that both men are black, they appear on the show in blackface — as do all the other performers.

Little does Delacroix imagine that the suits will green-light his absurd project and that the show will go on to become America’s top-rated television program. But many people, including his put-upon assistant Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett-Smith), decry the "ManTan" show for what it is — a racist piece of drivel. Delacroix must choose between embracing his wildly successful creation or sticking to the principles that led him to create it in the first place and coming face to face with his own black self-hate.

What Spike Lee has created in "Bamboozled" is an edgy film that examines the perpetuation of racial stereotypes within the entertainment industry as promoted and patronized by both white and black executives, entertainers, and audiences. It’s the type of movie that makes you squirm in your seat and feel uncomfortable with every involuntary giggle that escapes your lips. The movie practically bludgeons its audience with scene after scene of degrading racist imagery so that content that at first appeared offensive is soon accepted and even begrudgingly enjoyed. Not a master of subtlety by any means, Spike Lee’s over-the-top style is nevertheless frighteningly effective.

"Bamboozled" was filmed using handheld digital video cameras and is presented, as it was theatrically, in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. The use of a native video source, scaled up for a 35mm theatrical presentation, leaves the DVD with something of a unique video transfer. Blowing up the original digital video sources results in a grainy and somewhat harsh look. But this style is intentional and shouldn’t be counted against the overall transfer. In fact, New Line has done a fine job by keeping the picture from looking like too much digital clean-up was applied.

In addition, colors are fairly consistent and well-saturated and black levels are surprisingly solid. Since the image is already quite sharp it should come as no surprise that edge enhancement is nowhere to be found. The image is also free from blemishes and other physical imperfections. On the whole, the picture is very true to its source but may catch some viewers off-guard at first.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Surround and <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. The soundtrack is much more polished than the video and offers a very pleasing sound. The front soundstage is well-balanced between the three front speakers while the surround and LFE channels are only infrequently called upon. Terence Blanchard’s wide-ranging musical score comes across very well and dialogue is always crystal clear.

"Bamboozled" is a New Line Platinum Edition and that spells extras. First up is a very engaging <$commentary,commentary track> by Spike Lee in which he discusses the motivations behind the film and the often misguided criticism it received. His films seem to be such political lightning rods that few critics are able to view them in a completely open-minded manner so it’s refreshing to hear the director’s thoughts from the man himself rather than filtered through some third-party interview or essay.

Next up is an hour-long documentary entitled "The Making Of ’Bamboozled’" that offers a very detailed behind-the-scenes look at the film. Featuring interviews with cast and crew members — as well as outside critics, historians, and civic leaders — this piece is a fine accompaniment to Spike Lee’s commentary.

The DVD also offers over 20 minutes of deleted scenes, an animated promotional artwork gallery, music videos, the film’s theatrical trailer, and cast and crew bios and filmographies. The DVD-ROM portion of the disc features the complete shooting script with direct scene access as well as a few website links.

"Bamboozled" is an entertaining, yet intentionally discomforting, cinematic work by Spike Lee. While I personally found the luridly offensive satirical style to be a bit ham-fisted, the message that the movie attempts to convey is an important one. Before dismissing this as just another political rant from the notorious director, take a look at "Bamboozled" and ask yourself if the current climate of so-called "black entertainment" is really all that far removed from that which is portrayed in the film — minstrel show not withstanding.

The DVD itself is yet another stellar effort from the folks at New Line. The video and audio are both faithful reproductions of Spike Lee’s original materials and the bountiful extras provide some much-appreciated background on the film and the issues it explores. "Bamboozled" is certainly not a movie for everyone but the DVD presentation is without fault and is recommended for fans of Spike Lee and those looking for a wildly original piece of filmmaking that isn’t afraid to cajole its complacent audience.