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MOVIE REVIEW

'Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha'

September 04, 2009|Kevin Thomas

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles scorched screens across America with "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," a surreal odyssey in which Van Peebles played a pimp on the lam after becoming involved in the killing of a brutal cop, emerging as a symbol of defiance of mythic proportions. It became a landmark film in the flowering of black independent cinema. Now, at a vigorous and sly-as-ever 77, Van Peebles returns to the screen with "Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha," another surreal odyssey about a black man surviving countless misadventures, arriving at the conclusion that it has taken him 40 years to reach the age of 21.

Ideally, "Confessions" should be screening along with "Sweetback" and will be best appreciated by those able to see it as a companion film. The irony is Van Peebles himself has been such a pathfinder that by now there's nothing very new about seeing a philosophical, resilient black man with a wry sense of humor surviving adversity by luck and pluck. Van Peebles is so lively and his film such a vivid, though rambling, fantasy that it's no problem to accept a bearded older man as a young guy, running away from home, ending up in New York, joining the merchant marines -- this segment finds son Mario Van Peebles in a cameo as a pirate -- and having a protracted sojourn in a fictional African nation beset by civil war and an all-powerful dictator.

Van Peebles' persona and sensibility remain engaging, as do his way with his beguiling score and songs, but his film desperately needs tightening to eliminate tedious moments, especially in the African sequence. Sadly, "Confessions," based on a graphic novel and a play, seems a collection of parts rather than a whole, but some of those parts are affecting.

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'Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills

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