4 December 2005 | MovieAddict2016
Better than you might expect
Watching "True Identity," I was somehow reminded of an old "Saturday Night Live" Eddie Murphy skit where he disguised himself as a white man, then walked around New York City in makeup, realizing that when no black people are around, white people like to get funky.
At first I thought it was just a basic idea that bore resemblance, until two gags used in Murphy's skit were used in the film, and I started to wonder how they had ever gotten away with ripping off his materal. Then I realized that the writer of the film, Andy Breckman, used to write for "SNL," and that the film was an unofficial spin-off of Murphy's skit.
The problem with "SNL" spin-offs is that they take a successful five-minute paper-thin gag and stretch it out to full length. Mary Katherine Gallagher was never very funny, but her skits were watchable; whoever decided to put her oddball, unlikable character into a movie was nuts.
Luckily, even though it is far from being a great motion picture, "True Identity" has its fair share of good moments, which include British comedian Lenny Henry getting to dress up as a white guy and pose as an Italian-American mobster hit-man, then posing as James Brown's brother. (One of Murphy's trademark characters on "SNL" was his impersonation of James Brown in "James Brown's Hot Tub.")
Miles Pope is an aspiring actor living in the big city with hopes of becoming the lead in "Othello." When he boards a plane, he finds himself seated next to a strange man named Leland Carver. When the plane starts to plummet, Carver (played by Frank Langella) admits that he used to be a criminal, who was believed to have died in an explosion, but in reality survived, had facial alterations, and "spent thousands setting up a new identity." Of course, the plane then regains itself, leaving Miles with the knowledge that he will probably be chased by the gangster's hit men. So his only option is to disguise himself as a white man.
This is essentially a very weak setup, with a truly ridiculous and contrived plot (like a mobster would admit his real persona for no reason whatsoever). But the movie does have a fair amount of fun, and a few good belly laughs, including the opening scene. "You need to get to your roots," a director of a play tells Miles. "Act more black." "But black people don't act like this anymore!" Miles says. The director doesn't care, so Miles tries to portray a stereotypical black man. The result is very funny.
The film, as a whole, is completely harmless and serves its purpose. It's entertaining, with a silly plot but a good amount of funny scenes. Henry is able to show off how good he is at comedy while we are entertained. And for the record, his "white man makeup" was much more convincing than Murphy's.