Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini

Black and White

Black and White
Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Jennifer Ehle, Andre Holland, Gillian Jacobs, Mpho Koaho and Anthony Mackie

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight.
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: January 30, 2015 Released by: Relativity Media

A new contemporary L.A.-set protracted drama from Mike Binder combining racial bigotry and parenthood strains in credibility (especially plot-wise) and feels closer to being more retro when its star and producer, a spirited, even wryly cheerless Kevin Costner (Man of Steel and 3 Days To Kill as well as Draft Day) made The Bodyguard with the late Whitney Houston. Except now we're in the fast-track digital age with iPads and all those snazzy apps for your smartphones.

A clichéd Black or White also features another Oscar winner in Octavia Spencer (Get On Up,Snowpiercer) as loving, if iron-willed entrepreneurial paternal grandmother Rowena in an ultimately overcooked tale "inspired by a true incident."

Costner's Elliot Anderson is the California lawyer having lost his wife (Jennifer Ehle of the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey) and coping by embracing plenty of well-stocked scotch at his swank mansion's bar. Spunky newcomer Jillian Estell is his 7-year-old biracial granddaughter Eloise having been with him since childbirth claimed her 17-year-old mother's life and drug-addled, irresponsible dad Reggie (Andre Holland) ended up in prison.

The conflict Binder sets up is with Rowena getting into a roistering Elliot's face about getting custody of her math-tutored granddaughter with the aid of crackerjack nephew attorney, Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie of The Adjustment Bureau and The Hurt Locker) while cutting into the large metropolis's racial divide. While holding onto the bonds of family and its values. But, in the predictable maneuverings the idea of race doesn't really carry that much weight (or amounts that much now) as when many may be reminded of a relatively recent Gran Torino and much further back Guess Who's Coming To Dinner perhaps by way of Kramer Vs. Kramer.

It's about realizing what's best for Eloise, but the filmmaking doesn't really go about it with the kind of deft sentiment and certitude to show how two households (Rowena houses relatives in Compton close to a crack-infested lair) aren't that dissimilar. The courtroom figures prominently with a returning Reggie (who uses in front of his mother's house) as the maladroit mechanics ensue from Eliot's use of a no-no during trial.

Yet, a weathered Costner (recently honored for his career achievements by hoarse colleague Rene Russo at the annual Broadcast Film Critics Association ceremony) and a zealous Spencer have no problem surfacing above the lackluster grayness rendered in this undistinguished if capably told dramedy right down to the saccharine score by Terence Blanchard (a favorite of Spike Lee) as the former returns with Binder (after The Upside of Anger where he was also nestled to alcohol and Joan Allen). And, thoughBlack or White is clearly Costner's film, Mpho Koaho often steals the film as the young aforementioned African immigrant tutor and indispensable Duvan who amusingly isn't shy about admitting his resourcefulness.

  Frank Chris Jim Dave Nina Dayra Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Black and White     B-   C   C+               C   C+ 

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