Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bait is so bad, it's not even worth reviewing. Instead, I'm going to discuss the social implications of the film.
As I watched it, one question loomed in my head: Is Bait more or less racist than Big Momma's House? In the earlier film, Martin Lawrence starred as a master-of-disguise FBI agent who dressed as an old woman, fooling her friends and relatives. The only person who knew his secret was Paul Giamatti, who also happened to be the only white castmember. So, except for Lawrence (who merely acted foolish), all the black characters had to be complete idiots.
That has bothered me ever since seeing it, but I let it slide to give the film its proper (negative) review. Now, I have seen Bait, which is racist in the opposite way. There are only a few black characters, but they are all significant. Starring is Jamie Foxx, as a two-bit criminal who gets caught for stealing shrimp. He, of course, is definitely a complete idiot. At the same level of intelligence is his brother, played by Mike Epps. The other two black characters are Foxx's Reasonable Girlfriend (Kimberly Elise) and their Baby Born While Daddy Was In Prison. The girlfriend has to be smarter, lest they break convention, and the baby just has to exist.
That leaves the rest of the cast, led by David Morse as an inspector for the Department of the Treasury. He is investigating a gold heist that was carried out by two people. The one who hid the gold (Robert Pastorelli) died in prison, after spending a day as Foxx's cellmate. The other thief (Doug Hutchison), a computer hacker, is still on the loose. Morse puts a tracking device in the jawbone of an unsuspecting Foxx, and sets him free as bait to catch Hutchison. Morse, Hutchison, and the rest of white people are very, very smart, to contrast with Foxx's incredible stupidity.
This film basically portrays black men as moronic criminals and black women as helpless baby machines. Now, considering that they only show a few examples of these stereotypes, it may not be quite as racist as Big Momma's House, which has a whole town of stupid black people. Either way, both of these films are modern-day minstrel shows, basically making fun of black people for no reason. Both of them also received wide release immediately. Compare this to the more thoughtful, well-made films about African-Americans that have come out lately. Actually, none have, but last year saw The Best Man and The Wood. They were labeled as "black films", and got limited national distribution, playing only in neighborhoods with prevalent African-American populations.
This seems almost ironic that Spike Lee is about to release his next film, Bamboozled, which is about a black television producer (Damon Wayans) who creates a minstrel TV show in order to get fired. The show becomes a big hit, and the plan backfires. I have yet to see that film, but it has generated strong reactions at the Toronto Film Festival. It's quite obvious that the satire is more pointed than ever, and the makers of Bait and Big Momma's House should be ashamed of themselves.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan