Strong cast, weak story

March 28, 1997|By John Anderson | John Anderson,NEWSDAY

The aliens have landed in Beverly Hills and are wearing pumpkin-colored vinyl, stiletto fingernails and earrings like ICBMs.

In Robert Townsend's "B.A.P.S." -- which is a kind of immigrant fable -- cultures and classes collide but give way to an ultimately enriched social landscape. But the conflicts don't arise from religious oppression, politics or shrinking quotas. They're about too much mouth, too much South and too much mousse.

What are "B.A.P.S."? Black American Princesses, of course. Halle Berry, proving she can handle trashy as well as classy, is Nisi, a waitress with blond hair, big dreams and a gold cap on the occasional tooth. With her girlfriend Mickey (the delightful Natalie Desselle), she spends her days slinging greasy meat and burnt toast in the hash house of the dyspeptic Mr. Johnson (Bernie Mac). At night, they frequent the Gold Tooth bar, where their own dental apparel sets the metal detectors a-twitching.

Their land of limited opportunity is Decatur, Ga., where the girls want to open a combination soul-food restaurant and beauty parlor. But when they hear via MTV that the rapper Heavy D is launching a search for a video "dream girl," the two head for Los Angeles.

The plot is full of mistaken identity, exaggeration and excess. The running gag is that Nisi and Mickey are walking fashion crises and think they're chic.

Townsend has the benefit of two winning actresses -- Desselle, of "Set It Off," does a pretty good job of stealing the picture -- and a willingness to forgo a lot of the nasty humor that might have come easy here.

But Townsend, whose erratic record has included "Hollywood Shuffle," "Meteor Man" and "The Five Heartbeats," suffers from what might be called Penny Marshall Syndrome. A good director of middle-brow comedy, he loses his composure when matters turn serious. The music swells, and the film goes slack with sentiment.

Townsend is also hampered by a Troy Beyer script that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Tight storytelling isn't the reason to see "B.A.P.S." -- Desselle and Berry are. But the sloppiness of the script is part of what keeps the film from being first-rate.

'B.A.P.S.'

Starring Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle

Directed by Robert Townsend

Released by New Line Cinema

Rated R (adult situations, vulgarity)

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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