True Identity

1991 Directed by Charles Lane. Starring Lenny Henry, Lane, Frank Langella, Anne-Marie Johnson, Andreas Katsulas, Michael McKean.

REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., Aug. 30, 1991

The British comedian Lenny Henry, shows off his abilities as Miles Pope, a young African-American actor in this film that feeds off of one joke. When Henry finds himself on a plane next to a very respectable looking businessman, he thinks little of it until it seems the plane is going to crash and the urbane man beside him tells him he was once a famous mobster but thanks to plastic surgery he has a new life as a millionaire. Worst luck, the plane doesn't crash and now the mobster's got to kill the actor. And where does a promising young black actor hide? In the skin of a white man. At least that's what he does if he has a special effects wizard (Lane) as a best friend. Lane highlights the subtleties of racial injustice -- the people who thoughtlessly categorize black people; the casual distrust, the cabs that pass blacks to pick up whites. Unfortunately, all this is explored, over and done with early in the movie. For the rest of the movie, we watch Henry switch from his black voice to his white voice, from his black face to his white face and sometimes not all at the same time. He winds up hanging out with the mobsters as a wiseguy from Vegas hired to kill himself. Obviously, the plot wiring required to maneuver the characters into this situation is going to be delicate, but due to shoddy worksmanship it tears apart easily. Why doesn't he get different makeup? Maybe he should avoid his apartment for a while. Maybe he's too stupid to survive? It's a surprise that Lane, who directed the award winning film Sidewalk Stories, a black-and-white, almost entirely silent film about the homeless, should make such a mediocre, albeit pleasant, movie when he runs into a few bucks. On the more positive side, Lane, as the effects wizard Duane, a fast-talking little man with a taste for big, very big women, is a delight. He gives Henry a run for his money in the British star's vehicle.

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True Identity, Charles Lane, Lenny Henry, Lane, Frank Langella, Anne-Marie Johnson, Andreas Katsulas, Michael McKean

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