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Good Fences

A muddled made-for-cable pic that won the lottery and wound up at 2003 Sundance Film Festival, "Good Fences" (set to premiere Feb. 2 on Showtime) is a stupefyingly clumsy mix of cartoonish comedy, simplistic satire and borderline hysterical melodrama.

A muddled made-for-cable pic that won the lottery and wound up at 2003 Sundance Film Festival, “Good Fences” (set to premiere Feb. 2 on Showtime) is a stupefyingly clumsy mix of cartoonish comedy, simplistic satire and borderline hysterical melodrama. Helmer Ernest Dickerson fails to establish consistent tone and, worse, refuses to curb self-indulgent excesses of producer-stars Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover.

Something of a companion piece to “Strange Justice,” Dickerson’s Showtime docudrama about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, “Fences” focuses on Tom Spader (Glover), an upwardly mobile black attorney who moves with his wife Mabel (Goldberg) and two children to a posh suburb of Greenwich, Conn., in mid-1970s. Determined to make it in “the white man’s world,” Tom turns his back on his roots. (Just in case aud misses point, Dickerson shows him recoiling from telecast of the “Roots” miniseries.) Mabel barely remains civil to snooty white neighbors, but Tom fervently embraces upper-class WASP-y tastes and attitudes. Indeed, he’s so obsessed with being accepted, he takes drastic steps to alleviate fears that blacks are taking over the neighborhood. Flashbacks explaining Tom’s motives seem unconscionably exploitative in context of so much over-the-top silliness.

Good Fences

  • Production: A Showtime presentation of a 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover. Executive producers: Spike Lee, Sam Kitt. Directed by Ernest Dickerson. Screenplay, Trey Ellis, based on the novel by Ericka Ellis.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Jonathan Freeman; editor, Stephen Lovejoy; music, George Duke; production designer, Doug McCullough. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, Jan. 29, 2003. (At Sundance Film Festival, Premieres) Running time: 119 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Zachary Simmons Glover, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Ashley Archer, Vincent McCurdy Clark, Mo'Nique.