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Clever and funny Amos & Andrew satirizes stereotyping

Amos & Andrew
Written and Directed by E. Max Frye.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson
and Nicolas Cage.
Loews Cheri.

By John Jacobs
Staff Reporter

GoodFellas, White Sands, Jungle Fever, and Patriot Games to name a few. He's also in two movies now playing, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 and Amos & Andrew, which also stars Nicolas Cage, from Raising Arizona.

Jackson's character in Amos & Andrew is Andrew Sterling, a black playwright who's finally begun to experience success. He was on the cover of Forbes magazine. His plays have been on Broadway. He's finally able to afford a BMW and a summer house on an island, the residents of which are all very wealthy and, well, very white. It's when he drives in to spend his first night in his new home that events take an interesting turn. A well-meaning, but racist couple sees him in his own house and thinks, "[Gasp!] Look! There's a thief in the neighbor's house! That's probably the son's BMW is in the driveway! This must mean . . . My God! He's been taken hostage! That must be it. We all know what a black man is doing in an expensive house, right? He's stealing the stereo." The instructional video for the Neighborhood Crime Watch on this island must be a tape of the LA riots.

This movie pokes fun at this more passive type of racism which most of us call "stereotyping." All of the white people in this movie (with the exception of Amos) are comically small-minded characters stuck in a racist frame of mind that distorts everything they see. Because of their gross misinterpretations of events, the plot gets wildly out of control. Although the movie is a comedy, it makes having such sweepingly negative stereotypes look as irresponsible as it really is.

What I thought was unusual was how clueless the neighbors were. Didn't they see the "For Sale" sign in the yard? Don't they gossip with other neighbors? (I thought about the last time I moved. I was ten years old and I found out about it when, at my neighbor's house, I overheard him talking about it on the phone.) But then it hit me. Of course! Most rich people have at least two sets of neighbors. It's a requirement, right? And they are too important to actually talk to each other. Try and talk to rich people. See if they don't, no matter how they respond, make you feel like a salted slug.

Anyway, the racists stop strolling and call the chief of police, who's running for commissioner. Politically gifted, he realizes that this is his lucky night. He does what any candidate for commissioner would do in an election year -- he goes hard-core. He and his backups stake out the house. The policemen are inept (it's not NYC, you know, just some snooty island), so I understood when one of them tripped headlong into Andrew's car, setting off the alarm. Sterling wakes up, of course, because no one can sleep through one of those things. He goes outside to check it out, but he can't hear the officer over his car alarm, so he points his alarm silencer at the car and . . . What happens? Let me just say that Sterling may enjoy hearing the pitter-patter of little feet in his house, even the pitter-patter of rain on his roof, but not the pitter-patter of bullets through his front door. Alarm silencers should be banned, maybe -- just like super-soakers.

Eventually, the chief tries to call the "hostage," discovering that, (whoops!) he and his officers have just shot up Andrew Sterling's house-the Andrew Sterling. This is where Amos comes in. Amos is that loser pothead you went to school with back in high school who was always in trouble, but here he's disguised as Nicolas Cage. Amos was arrested for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." "She looked eighteen," he responds. Ha, ha. It's a very old joke, but a good one, I guess. The chief has another flash of genius. He gives Amos a choice, telling him that he'll go free if he plays the part of the hostage-taker. If he doesn't, he'll get sent to a real prison as a "career criminal," which he really isn't; he's just a loser. Amos says yes, but he isn't as stupid as he looks, or as you remember him to be from high school.

The chief wants to use him as a trophy, so Amos takes Andrew hostage and demands a million dollars and a helicopter. But the pair escape from the house without being seen, and get to talking. Andrew, Amos says, sees racism where there isn't any; there's just bad luck. But then Andrew tells the sad story of his father, who gave 40 years of his life to some company. When he died a few weeks after retirement, only the black janitor came to the funeral. They reach a tacit understanding that they both suffer from negative stereotypes: one is a "nigger" and one is a "career criminal."

Meanwhile, the policemen, the press, and federal agents have stormed the house. The result is a well-filmed scene of confusion. Blocks away, Andrew helps Amos escape in a stolen Mercedes. Amos heads in the direction of Florida to start, we assume, a new and crime-free life. Andrew Sterling also has his vague catharsis, and they all live happily, except for the chief of course, who will be ruined by the press in one of its classic frenzies.

For a few minutes before the movie, I was worried that Cage, as the main comical character, would upstage Jackson in his more serious role as Andrew. But that didn't happen. Both actors had very commendable performances. The screenplay is clever, and the movie is, overall, well-done, coherent, and funny. All the characters are believable, and the film is, if not a must-see, definitely worth seeing.