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White Chicks

Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Jaime King, Frankie Faison, Lochlyn Munro, John Heard, Busy Phillipps, Terry Crews, Brittany Daniel, Eddie Velez

(Columbia; US theatrical: 23 Jun 2004; 2004)

Falsettos

Katie Couric recently asked Keenen Ivory Wayans whether he thinks his new movie has “broader social significance.” He smiled and nodded, then named the “three wells” he thinks White Chicks goes to, that is, race, gender, and class. As fodder for the Wayans’ joke-making, these are pretty much the usual: In Living Color and the Scary Movies, after all, are at their most incisive, interrogations not only of horror movie conventions, but also the cultural climates that produce such conventions. At their worst, however, they offer fart jokes.


And so, the plot of the well-infused White Chicks: FBI Agents Kevin and Marcus (Shawn and Marlon Wayans) masquerade as wealthy white girls over a Hamptons Weekend. Initially, they’re proving to their perpetually angry chief (Frankie Faison) that they’re good, or at least adequate, agents. This is hardly obvious, as they are introduced during an undercover assignment that goes terribly wrong (it has to do with mistaking vanilla ice cream for cocaine, because they seem generally more interested in amusing one another with their wigs and accents than in the object of their sting: “Our intelligence was just a little off,” they whine).


To impress the boss, they agree to chaperone a couple of utterly obnoxious, privileged, and ignorant sisters—Brittany (Maitland Ward) and Tiffany Wilson (Anne Dudek)—to their humungo Labor Day weekend fete, in order to bait and capture rumored kidnappers. En route, they drive off the road, and the girls suffer minor lacerations to their faces. Eeek, they scream. And you know they can’t go to the Hamptons.


The boys call in their makeup team, and before you can say, “Big Mama’s House,” they’re transformed into white girls. Really tall white girls, with scary mask-like faces and annoying falsettos. When asked about their changed appearances, they mutter something about collagen and that they had their “knees done,” at which point their shortish friends, or rather, the Wilsons’ shortish friends, ooh and ahh over the possibility. The brothers exchange looks that might mean, “We’ll never understand how this whole white girl thing works,” or maybe, “These white girls are unbelievably stupid.”


Before you can say “Tootsie,” however, the boys come to learn that not all white girls are exactly alike, though their voices seem pretty much interchangeable. The relatively nice girls—including Karen (Busy Phillips), Lisa (Jennifer Carpenter), and Tori (Jessica Caulffiel)—are willing to welcome these frankly freakish sisters into their fold. They encourage Brittany and Tiffany to sing along to Vanessa Carlton’s “1000 Miles,” and are vaguely titillated when they learn it’s “okay” to use the n-word when no black people are around. They’re also entirely impressed by the Wilsons’ ability to throw down with mama jokes and to breakdance.


Kevin and Marcus’ opponents in these contests are the mean girls, specifically, sisters Heather (Jaime King) and Megan (Brittany Daniel). Not only are they skinny, snooty, and blond in a Paris Hilton sort of way, they are also ferocious and frighteningly precise when concocting abuses and mortifications. As they are assigned a side (the one that comes with their undercover identities), the agents learn to be better black men because they come to understand the difficulties of being white girls.


But their own difficulties playing at being girls are not the primary means of their education. Rather, their actual friendships with Tori, Lisa, and especially Karen are enlightening, even a little complicated (that is, within the range of possibilities here). Watching their new girlfriends’ hysterical fretting over being “too fat” or submitting to the demands of a boorish boyfriend makes Kevin and Marcus sympathize with the girls, going so far as to punch out the offending boyfriend (Carpenter notes of her character, Lisa, that “We’re all wearing disguises, just trying to pass ourselves off as real”).


Marcus and Kevin’s observations also make them think again about their own behaviors, more respectful of black women (say, Marcus’ wife, Gina [Faune Chambers] or Kevin’s new object of affection, society pages journalist Denise [Rochelle Aytes]) and less dismissive of white girls. Sort of. They’re still distracted by that silly assignment to foil the kidnappers, a subplot that becomes increasingly tedious and has them lying up and down to all the women around them. (The fact that it involves the absurdly conniving father of the evil twins, played by John Heard, only makes it more painful. What happened to the actor who starred in Chilly Scenes of Winter?)


The cross-dressing comedy wouldn’t be completely without homo-neurotic antics. To this end, in-drag Marcus is courted by extra-muscular NBA star Latrell (Terry Crews), who is so taken with his chosen white chick that no matter what she does during their fancy restaurant dinner—eating like a pig, criticizing his game, chewing off her toenail, farting profusely—he smiles and seems more smitten than ever (he’s the Joe E. Brown of this Some Like It Hot scenario). This relationship is easily the movie’s most predictable and irritating, to the point that Latrell’s self-humiliation turns vaguely excruciating. While White Chicks does, as Keenen suggests, launch some challenges to gender-class-race roles (and so, has more on its mind than Soul Plane), it’s also fond of the diarrhea jokes.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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