A lightly enjoyable road pic about a circuitous road to redemption, “Black, White and Blues” offers simple, down-home pleasures while spinning an undeniably familiar but emotionally satisfying tale about a young man in need of a mentor and an older fellow in search of forgiveness. Directed in atypically easygoing style by Mario Van Peebles, this indie dramedy could prove popular in limited theatrical play — especially in carefully pinpointed regional release — before reaching a wider aud through homevid and cable.
Impressing in a lead role he obviously co-wrote (with George Richards) to his own strengths, Morgan Simpson plays Jefferson Bailey, a would-be singer-songwriter whose crippling stage fright stunts his career in Austin, Texas.
After barely escaping a beatdown by an angry debtor (a nicely nasty Luke Perry) who’s all the angrier because Bailey has made him a cuckold, Bailey reluctantly agrees to join helpful stranger Augy (Michael Clarke Duncan) on a long drive to Huntsville, Ala. Augy claims he’s merely helping Bailey claim a family inheritance. As the journey proceeds, however, it becomes clear Augy’s motives aren’t entirely selfless — but are even more admirable.
Neatly avoiding the “magic Negro” cliche of a saintly African-American benefactor, “Black, White and Blues” renders Augy as a complex, guilt-haunted character whose concern for Bailey is genuine, but whose need for expiation — subtly hinted at early on by mention of his involvement in a 12-step program — is a more compelling driving force. The beauty of Duncan’s performance is the way this charismatic actor subtly reveals the thoughtful melancholy that lies beneath Augy’s hearty bonhomie.
Without ever seeming sappy, “Black, White and Blues” overall is infused by a generosity of spirit. (With judicious trimming of language and a fleeting sexual reference, pic could appeal to the faith-based market.) The most amusing scene has Augy, a country music fan, explaining to Bailey, a blues musician, how both musical genres rely on expressing the same heartfelt yearnings. It’s a throwaway moment, seemingly, but it’s also emblematic of the determination by Peebles and his scriptwriters to chart common ground between apparent opposites.
Tom Skerritt contributes a pitch-perfect supporting performance as the sage owner of a small-town honkytonk. Tech credits are fine, with areas in and around Nashville subbing credibly for locales in at least four states.