White Chicks (2004)

(Netflix Streaming, September 2016) White Chicks is far from being the first movie in which what we see falls short of what the film wants us to see, but this cross-dressing comedy in which two black men impersonate two white women is notable for the chasm between visuals and screenplay. The two Wayans brothers (Shawn and Marlon) playing upper-society white girls do so under layers of top-notch makeup appliances, but the result is squarely inside the uncanny valley hideousness. We, as viewers, never believe. It’s a fair bet that the film itself never think we’re going to believe either, but the damage has been done by then. It certainly doesn’t help that all of this cross-dressing white-facing effort is in the service of a dead-simple script in which the criminal plotline is merely a clothesline on which to hang various comic set pieces. It’s not hard to dig into the film and come up with examples of social critique of gender and racial roles, but let’s be honest: This is a dumb comedy, not a piece of cutting satire. As such, it’s hit and miss: The film feels too long, with unwarranted cheap shots and lazy set pieces. The Wayans do OK as the leads, but they curiously get upstaged by Terry Crews, who manages to overcome repellent writing by sheer force of charisma: When his character is not written as offensive, Crews is downright charming. (Something that’s true of a surprising number of his early roles.) Otherwise, there isn’t much to say: White Chicks is comedy based on contrivances, not the least of them being the conceit that white-faced cross-dressers can pass as attractive upper-class young women. It only works with a generous amount of belief, which presupposes that viewers are willing to work with such a broad kind of comedy.

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