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Movie Review : 'Black Hat' Tries to Give the 'Spinal' Treatment to Rap

June 03, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Fear of a Black Hat" is designed to be a rap version of the classic mock rock documentary "This Is Spinal Tap," and the idea is so funny that for a long time the film coasts on our good will. But it should be funnier than it is. Writer-director Rusty Cundieff, who also stars, along with Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence, as one of the three members of the rap group N.W.H., has a loose-limbed comic sense, and there are hilarious bits poking through the tedium. What the movie lacks is any kind of smart, sociological sense. It's a defanged spoof.

The biggest in-joke about gangsta rap, after all, is that its largest audience is white. Black rappers, many from middle-class backgrounds, market the white audience's worst racial fears. Instead of getting into this kind of material, Cundieff goes for more obvious (and safer) targets: Vanilla Ice types and cringing money-grubbing managers.

The rap group's numbers aren't particularly well-staged, or funny, but a few of their MTV clips are almost indistinguishable from what's really on the network. (That's the joke.) There's a funny interview with one of the rappers about the meaning of the group's name where he goes into a long diatribe about how slaves weren't allowed to wear hats, and another where the group's recurring use of the word butt is explained away as a social statement.

The titles for their rap hits are the most inspired thing in the movie, but you'll have to see the movie--or read something besides a family newspaper--to find out what they are. The tamest one is "Guerrillas in the Mist."

* MPAA rating: R, for pervasive strong language and for sexuality. Times guidelines: It includes much cussing, some violence and lots of explicit sexual references.

'Fear of a Black Hat'

Larry B. Scott: Tasty-Taste

Mark Christopher Lawrence: Tone Def

Nina Blackburn: Kasi Lemmons

Rusty Cundieff: Ice Cold

A Samuel Goldwyn Co. presentation. Written and directed by Rusty Cundieff. Producer Darin Scott. Executive producer Wm. Christopher Gorog. Cinematographer John Demp Jr. Editor Karen Horn. Costumes Rita McGhee. Music supervisor Larry Robinson. Production design Stuart Blatt. Set decorator Penny Barrett. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

* In limited release in Southern California.

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