That ain't keepin it real!
Daryl Chase (Orlando Jones) has it all—a fine NYC apartment, designer suits, a prestigious job with a Wall Street Banking firm, a runway-model girlfriend named Chloe Kitt (Garcelle Beauvais), and a super-competent assistant (Vivica A. Fox) who anticipates his every need. But for all his worldly goods and breezy confidence, Daryl’s got another thing coming, in the form of con man Freddy Tiffany (Eddie Griffin). Appearing first as a sidewalk breakdancer, wearing the requisite bright orange tracksuit and busting his moves outside Daryl’s swank condo, Freddy improbably begins popping up repeatedly throughout the banker’s well-ordered day (“This is some easy-ass shit!,” he exclaims, on seeing the office, “Your fancy furniture and what-not!”). This day and Daryl’s comfy lifestyle are breaking down seriously, and according to some familiar, if barmy, devices. By the time Daryl is assaulted by a Mexican hitman and on the run from the NYPD, you see where this movie is headed: the out-of-touch rich guy will get his comeuppance at the hands of his new acquaintance.
Indeed, Double Take is, for the most part, just what it looks like. If you’ve seen Bad Boys, Rush Hour, Blue Streak, or even 1988’s Midnight Run (not incidentally, written by Double Take‘s writer-director, George Gallo), you’ve seen most everything this movie has to offer—undercover missions and mistaken identities, bad cops and sneering drug dealers, psycho mafiosos and inept feds, competing egos and big guns, barely-clad beautiful women and some more big guns. Even the “twists” are routine: it won’t surprise anyone that these nascent buddies aren’t entirely who they appear to be, and their ostensibly unrelated dilemmas are actually closely connected.
At the same time, and as its title suggests, Double Take is a film that asks you to look again. And it does have a few tricks up its sleeve (emphasis on few). For one thing, it has an unlikely source. It’s based on a 1957 drama starring Rod Steiger, Across the Bridge, which was in turn based on a Graham Greene novel. From this foundation, Double Take lifts basic plot elements, mostly having to do with Daryl taking Freddy’s identity in order to flee to Mexico, where, he learns, Freddy is himself a wanted man. And why is Daryl going to Mexico? Here you have to bear with the script’s many implausibilities—after the Mexican hitman episode, he’s advised by a CIA agent named McReady (Gary Grubbs), who has conveniently appeared to save him from the hitman, to go to Mexico. In an understandable panic—as he notes, he’s a black man being hunted by the cops in Manhattan—Daryl agrees. He leaves Chloe and his credit cards behind and tries to board a train from Penn Station (that’s right, a train to Mexico). At the station, he spots evil-looking suits everywhere, so when he (again!) runs into Freddy, who notes right away that Daryl looks scared: “You got the NYPD-shoot-a-nigger-41-times-in-the-ass look!” Just so, Daryl pleads with Mr. Streetwise to help him scam his way South. At Freddy’s suggestion, they exchange clothes and IDs, at which point Freddy starts teaching Daryl how to walk and talk “black” (“Put a little pep in your step!”). The switch allows the actors to imitate each other’s characters: Griffin does the Harvard-educated, suave and snooty executive, and Jones acts the foul-mouthed, crotch-grabbing, gold-toothed fool. The switch leads to a number of outsized comic exercises, including the challenge that Daryl issues to a nonplussed dining car waiter, in the scene running in the film’s omnipresent ads: “What!?! No Schlitz Malt Liquor!? You ain’t representin’! You ain’t keepin’ it rrreeeaaal!”
Strangely, in a movie that so conspicuously flouts reality—there’s really not a reasonable plot turn or believable physical stunt in sight—this question of keeping it real ends up being front and center. Certainly, the question of what constitutes a genuine “black” identity has come up a lot in mainstream movies and TV, especially in relation to class (Livin’ Large, Strictly Business, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air were early, notorious attempts to ask this question). In its own irreverent and frankly preposterous way, Double Take expands the parameters of this question, by revealing that any reality, in any culture and any movie genre, comes down to a matter of accepted conventions. What’s “real” is what’s believed and accepted at the moment, usually by the people with the power to enforce what they believe. The point that Double Take makes is this: once you throw the conventions out the window, all bets are off. And then anything can pass for real, even Freddy’s patently absurd interpretations of events and unlikely master-spy abilities.
This is not to say that Double Take holds together as anything resembling a realistic film. It does not. Irreverent and silly, it careens between being a not-very-suspenseful thriller and a broadly slapstick comedy, piling up all the usual action scenes, including the car chase, the shoot-out, the exploding truck, the assault by a team of sweaty, mustachioed Mexican border guards (though I will say that, compared to the last two U.S. movies I’ve seen set in Mexico, Traffic and All the Pretty Horses, Double Take may be least offensive regarding such stereotypes, precisely because it is so hyper-conscious of them as stereotypes). Double Take accelerates these predictable moments until they reach a kind of hyper-real warp speed (Malcolm Campbell’s editing in these scenes is breakneck) and sets them to an appropriately bizarre, wha-wha ‘70s-style score by Graeme Revell.
At the center of all this ruckus are the entirely unbelievable protagonists, whom Jones and Griffin more or less keep afloat by sheer force of will and a decent chemistry between them. While Jones has obvious mainstream appeal (even if you are sick to death of those obnoxious 7-Up commercials), the lesser known Eddie Griffin may be a harder sell for a Touchstone marketing campaign—though again, judging by the deluge of ads, it appears they’ve reached a strategy). And Griffin does some with a fanbase who love his spastic comedy and undeniable electricity on screen, all underscored by Jones’ well-timed straight-man reactions. That all their feuding will lead to a solid partnership is, of course, the film’s foregone conclusion. Since Daryl is the one learning the righteous lesson, to trust his fellow black man, the film reassures viewers early on that Freddy is worthy. In particular, he has a straight-up weird but also adorable affection for a fluffy white doggie named Delores, who loves him in return. Their relationship is both cute (repeated shots of her tippy-tippying on her little toenails) and crude (repeated occasions where she’s referred to as a “bitch” or Freddy’s “little white girlfriend”), a mix that unexpectedly humanizes Freddy, while again, demonstrating that reality is probably overrated.