Black & White & Red All Over

There's integrity, truth and an often arresting visual adventurousness at work in "Black & White & Red All Over." But this different spin on boys-n-the-hood themes will face an uphill climb finding auds, as its experimental techniques and apartment-bound, talk-oriented progress hardly fit into either current arthouse or mainstream niches.

With:
Hope - Thomas Braxton Jr.
Kairo - Lord Harrison
Herb - MyQuan
Ren - Damian
Griz - Rob Florestal
Dee - Naomi Ramsey

There’s integrity, truth and an often arresting visual adventurousness at work in “Black & White & Red All Over.” But this different spin on boys-n-the-hood themes will face an uphill climb finding auds, as its experimental techniques and apartment-bound, talk-oriented progress hardly fit into either current arthouse or mainstream niches.

Team of three first-time director-scenarists has clearly drawn on personal experience — two work for an ad agency, just like two characters here — but pic deals with black-on-black violence in a credible fictive format. Setting is Kairo’s (Lord Harrison) Boston apartment. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so others are crashing, and partying, there on their school break. They include Kairo’s best friend, Herb (MyQuan), who has dreams of playing pro basketball but little real drive to succeed; quieter, watchfully critical Hope (Thomas Braxton Jr.); Griz (Rob Florestal), a drug dealer with a hair-trigger temper; his exasperated flunky, Ren (Damian); and lone female Dee (Naomi Ramsey), who works with Kairo at a Cambridge advertising company

Several characters have just attended yet another street-slain friend’s wake; an answering-machine message offers condolences from a pal currently in prison. Still, the casual party soon relaxes into badly needed R&R, helped by constant rotation of “blunts” (hand-rolled marijuana-and-tobacco cigarettes).

Slangy, rapid-fire conversation eludes easy tracking at times, yet proves engaging. Like any other group of early-twentysomethings, this one keeps circling back to shared pop-culture interests — Black Entertainment Network and “Sesame Street” among those wittily dissed. (Helmers include rough but funny “broadcast” footage mocking such targets.)

There’s too much incipient tension here to allow harmony for very long, however. Griz’s hard-core eye-for-an-eye, survivalist philosophies keep clashing against Dee’s peacenik spirituality; other figures inhabit a gray zone in between. Out of nowhere, the group learns from a TV news report that Hope’s entire family was shot “execution-style.” Later, Griz and Ren secretly go off to settle this score on the suspected gang members; this results in police wrecking the apartment, hauling Hope and Kairo off to jail.

This spiral of violence continues, dwindling the group’s number over just a few days’ course. When a final line is crossed, two remaining figures are face-to-face with guns — ready to blow each other away, for no reason save the sheer rope’s-end madness that so much loss has driven them to.

Pic intelligently conveys contradictions of ’90s African-American urban life on several levels, primarily focusing on media distortion and the self-destructive gang/drug/

violence cycle that proves so hard to elude, or escape. At the same time, the film suffers from inevitable slackening of viewer interest — police raid and climactic face-off aside, all crucial events take place offscreen.

Ensemble acting is strong, though individual personalities take awhile to come across. Subsidiary characters (including Kairo’s white, liberal mother and Hope’s gratuitously sex-potty white g.f.) make cursory appearances. Screenplay sports some sharp dialogue, but its naturalistic bent doesn’t provide the sound overall narrative structure that might have maximized impact.

Visual tactics are imaginative within single-locale limits, with extreme close-ups, tinting, unusual framing, vid fragments and occasional full color scattered amid lensing that’s mostly a very crisp B&W. Use of music is likewise excellent: Choice soul and rap cuts provide contrast to the cool hip-hop and jazz score.

Black & White & Red All Over

Production: A Caballeros production. Produced by Mark Hankey, DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy, Mark Streeter. Executive producers, Paul Gallagher, Mary Gallagher, John Kao. Directed, written by DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy, Mark Streeter.

Crew: Camera (B&W/color), Jonathan Bekemeier; editor, Peter Barstis; music, David Steele; production design, Jonathon Hexner; sound, Chris Anderson. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 1997. Running time: 97 MIN

With: Hope - Thomas Braxton Jr.
Kairo - Lord Harrison
Herb - MyQuan
Ren - Damian
Griz - Rob Florestal
Dee - Naomi Ramsey

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