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MOVIE REVIEW : Despite Hoopla, 'How to Make Love to a Negro' a Flat Parody

July 27, 1990|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's too bad the original title for the new French-Canadian comedy "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired" isn't being retained in most of the newspaper ads. It's been foreshortened to the more self-help-guide sounding "How to Make Love. . . !!!" Clearly the original title was intended ironically, as an impudent taunt.

The film, which was co-written by Dany Laferriere, the black Haitian who wrote the semi-autobiographical 1985 novel on which the film is based, could use an extra dose of impudence. It's engaging but a little flat; what might have been a picaresque romp ends up more like a hang-loose sitcom on the themes of interracial ribaldry. (For all its Henry Miller-esque pretensions, the novel isn't much better.)

Man (Isaach De Bankole, from "Chocolat"), a newly arrived Haitian immigrant in Montreal, shares an apartment with his African friend Bouba (Maka Kotto), who lazes about listening to jazz, reading Freud and citing the Koran. Bouba seems perpetually half-asleep but in a hip way; he might have stepped out of some weird African variant of beatnik slumberland.

Man is as vivacious as Bouba is dozy. He cruises the summer streets for women, and he also has a main squeeze, a WASP princess he dubs Miz Literature (Roberta Bizeau). Man is so open to sensual joy that he is virtually unflappable. Despite his itch for fresh conquests, he's basically an innocent; there is no malice in his sexual foraging. There is humor, though. The running joke in the film is that, with the white women in his circle, Man enjoys playing up the conceit of black sexual superstardom. And he delivers.

It's a promising scenario, but Man, who is writing a novel chronicling his exploits, isn't much of a character. His openness is enjoyable at first but we never get behind his broad smiles and laughter. There is little texture to his character, nothing that might indicate what kind of writer he might be, or if he's any kind of writer at all. The film (at the Laemmle's Fine Arts; Times rated Mature: contains sexually explicit situations) is intended as a sunny glorification of Man's wanderlust, but, by providing him with virtually no other dimension, it ends up dehumanizing him. He becomes his own parody self-image, and the filmmakers see no irony in that.

'HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO A NEGRO WITHOUT GETTING TIRED'

An Angelika Films release. Producers Richard Sadler, Ann Burke, Henry Lange. Director Jacques W. Benoit. Screenplay Dany Laferriere and Richard Sadler, based on the novel "How To Make Love to a Negro" by Laferriere. Cinematography John Berrie. Music Manu Dibango. Production design Gaudeline Sauriol. Film editor Dominique Roy. With Isaach De Bankole, Maka Kotto, Antoine Durand, Roberta Bizeau.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

MPAA-rated: Unrated (contains sexual situations and brief nudity).

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