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Double Take
A road comedy that goes nowhere and does nothing
Double Take
Touchstone Pictures
Directed by George Gallo
USA, 2001
If for nothing else, the 1976 movie Silver Streak is probably best remembered for one brilliant scene. Nebbishy white guy George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) has to get onto a train without any of the pursuing goons spotting him. His only friend is streetwise hustler Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor), who spontaneously masterminds a plan: armed with street clothes and shoe polish, he passes Caldwell off as a jive-talking black man, giving him a quick lesson in the swagger and the talk. Watching Wilder's over-the-top caricature proclaiming "Tight ass, man, tight ass!" is side-splitting enough; that everyone in the train station buys it is icing on the cake.

Orlando Jones, former Mad TV funnyman and current 7-Up pitchman, is about my age, so letís just say investment banker Daryl Chase, the character he plays in Double Take, is as well. When he initiates a similar stunt by swapping clothes with street hustler Freddy Tiffany (the hyperkinetic Eddie Griffin), we can presume his inspiration came from that classic moment.

My guess is that George Gallo, who both wrote and directed Double Take, figured most of today's audience never heard of Silver Streak, let alone saw it, and therefore felt free to expand a three-minute joke into the bulk of a 90-odd-minute film. The trouble is, aside from a few good gags, most of which were shown ad nauseum in theatrical trailers and TV ads for the last few months, the whole identity-switch thing goes nowhere as a joke.

The other film swipe fares just as poorly. The premise of the rich guy and the poor guy switching places had previously been mined in 1983's Trading Places, but much better. There's no discomfort or culture shock here: Tiffany easily slides into Chase's Italian suit, mockingly using precise diction when he wants to make a point; when Chase isn't adopting a faux-Ebonics cadence (which he does for five minutes, at most) he just lapses into everyday casual black slang. Each can easily slide a few notches to the other's station, so there's no friction. Therefore there's no humor.

This leaves us with the rest of the plot, which involves Chase getting mixed up in a Mexican client's money-laundering operation and the subsequent murder of his secretary and two cops. As the prime suspect, he lams out of town, based on advice from the CIA agents who've alerted him to his client's dealings. On his tail are two FBI agents, except they're really in the service of his client. Of course, he runs into Tiffany at the train station, and hilarity ensues.

Or, rather, it should. Gallo's script is really a collection of loosely connected permutations of chase-false identity-argument scenes, none of which are particularly exciting or funny. That the whole thing is topped off with far too many suddenly-exposed secret loyalties (half of which are maddeningly obvious) just numbs the mind even more. After about the third such revelation, Double just becomes almost too much to take.

A Critical Eye exclusive (January 12, 2001)
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