Owen Gleiberman
August 30, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

True Identity

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
93 minutes
performer
Charles Lane, Frank Langella, Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Johnson, James Earl Jones, Peggy Lipton, Michael McKean, J.T. Walsh
director
Charles Lane
distributor
Buena Vista Home Video
author
Andy Breckman
genre
Drama, Comedy

We gave it a C-

Charles Lane, the director of this satirical farce called True Identity, caught the tail of a funny idea — a young black actor has to disguise himself as a white guy — without quite realizing why it was a funny idea. Miles (Lenny Henry), who dreams of starring in Othello, stumbles onto the secret identity of a Mafia bigwig (Frank Langella). To avoid getting whacked, he allows his friend (Lane), a special effects expert on low-grade horror films, to do him up as a Caucasian. Pursued by the mobster’s henchmen, Miles, wearing pounds of makeup, ends up passing himself off as one of them. The setup sounds promising, in part because black comics such as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy have spent many hilarious moments skewering the fear, pomposity, and obliviousness hidden within the confident surface of middle-class white style. In True Identity, Henry, a British comic, simply impersonates a cliche: the thick-witted Mafia thug. Since Henry is fairly bland to begin with (in this role, at least, he has the wholesome sprightliness of a Midwestern college freshman), Miles has no personality to submerge. The movie is like Tootsie remade as a one-joke sitcom. C-

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