'Livin' Large' spoofs stereotypes, TV news with surprisingly ugly edge

September 20, 1991|By Stephen Wigler

There are two movies in "Livin' Large." One is a satire of TV news that rips off better films such as "Broadcast News" and "Network." The other is a surprisingly vicious version of the Faust legend -- with a tip of the hat to "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" -- in which goodness is represented by a black Everyman, a sweet-tempered deliveryman named Dexter Jackson, and evil by white society, specifically by two women.

The ambition of Dexter (the charming Terrence "T.C." Carson), who works in his sister's dry-cleaning business, is to be "livin' large" -- a rap expression for achieving success -- as a TV newsman.

Dexter is in luck when he stumbles upon a hostage-taking scene in which a TV reporter has been shot dead. Dexter picks up the mike and camera and frees the hostages, persuades the gunman to surrender and delivers commentary homeboy-style.

Back at the studio, Evening News producer Kate Penndragin (Blanche Baker in the Faye Dunaway role) is thrilled when her reporter is shot dead on camera, salivates at the possibility that the gunman may commit suicide and likes Dexter's nitty-gritty goofiness. She hires him and begins the process of polishing his "rough" edges and transforming him into an object suitable for wide audiences.

This is where the movie turns ugly as it begins to identify -- and it does so baldly -- badness, coldness and materialism with the white race, and goodness, warmth and caring with the black one.

Dexter starts with a story about how the police turn up in force to a report of a sprained ankle in a white upper-class neighborhood and how they fail to respond to a report of death and carnage in a poor black one. But under Kate's tutelage he is soon doing pieces about how soul food raises cholesterol levels, how the friendly neighborhood barber runs numbers and how one of Dexter's acquaintances steals cars from an automobile dealership. In other words, he betrays the black community to raise ratings and get ahead in the white world.

Dexter's compromises trouble his conscience and he imagines himself with progressively lighter and straighter hair, thinner lips and whiter skin. Worse yet, he's begun to talk and dance like a white man (snapping his fingers and moving awkwardly as if his head -- and not his hips -- were driving his body). He's a mess.

Some of this is silly and funny -- especially when Dexter agrees to marry Missy (Julia Campbell), the station's sexy white weathergirl, live on TV in what the station bills as " 'Gone with the Wind' meets 'Superfly.' " But a lot of this is just nasty.

"Livin' Large" is, of course, a farce -- not a genre that should be taken too seriously. But it is a tendentious one that advances its black-and-white point of view with a disturbingly ugly edge.

'Livin' Large'

Starring Terrence "T.C." Carson, Blanche Baker, Julia Campbell and Nathaniel "Afrika" Hall.

Directed by Michael Schultz.

Released by Samuel Goldwyn.

Rated R.

... **

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