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Amos & Andrew

Rated PG-13, 96 min. Directed by E. Max Frye. Starring Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Lerner, Margaret Colin, Brad Dourif, Dabney Coleman, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Balaban.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 5, 1993

Amos & Andrew is a better-than-average comedy that's likable enough while unfolding but evaporative when over. It takes a topical subject -- racial prejudice -- and combines it with a familiar narrative strategy -- mistaken identity -- and comes up with an entertaining, if unsubstantial, comic excursion. From its very title to its essential premise of a black man moving into his new home in an all-white community and being mistaken for a burglar, Amos & Andrew assumes the appearance of having a sociological message. But its message is never anything deeper than: Racial stereotyping -- whites toward blacks, blacks toward whites -- Not Good. Leads to all kinds of mayhem. Comedy mayhem. If only the movie fulfilled that promise, however. Instead, Amos & Andrew perks along at a humorous clip, a pace that amuses but never goes completely over the top into thoroughly manic territory. First-time director Frye (who also scripted) steals some of his jokes's thunder by laboring too hard to set them up. That causes us to see the punchlines too early thereby deflating much of the comic steam. An apt comparison would be Frye's own previous script for the delirious joyride Something Wild, directed by Jonathan Demme. There, in yet another case of skewed identity, the progression is relentlessly manic creating a genuine frenzy, not just Amos & Andrew's steady yuks. Amos & Andrew's real strength is in its performances. The ensemble cast is top-notch: each of them nails a certain character type. There's Lerner and Colin's hypocritical busybodies who start the mistaken identity ball rolling, Coleman's predictably smarmy police chief up for re-election, Esposito's reverend/politico who can rouse the masses at the drop of a hat, Balaban's self-proclaimed freelance hostage crisis negotiator. Jackson turns in another terrific performance, as always, but the real star is is Cage who regains some of that whacked-out intensity he established in Raising Arizona. This movie is his movie and his stoned monologue about his sea monkey family is his moment. I wouldn't be surprised to see the sale of sea monkeys suddenly skyrocket.
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