Film Reviews

Hat Trick

While there's no deep meaning in a rap song entitled "Come Pet the P.U.S.S.Y.," the fictional rap group that performs it in Fear of a Black Hat -- Rusty Cundieff's merry mockumentary about rap music that owes much to Rob Reiner's spoof of heavy metal, This Is Spinal Tap -- would have the public believe otherwise. But since the group is called N.W.H. -- Niggaz With Hats -- we know better than to take seriously their indignant claim of an important acronym, "Political Unrest Stabilizes Society, Yeah." When asked about the controversy surrounding their last album, Kill Whitey, the rappers, Tasty-Taste (Larry B. Scott), Tone-Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence) and Ice Cold (Cundieff), grouse about being labeled racists.

In fact, most of what they say is ludicrous, as when they claim that their outlandish headgear, which in one scene is straight out of Dr. Seuss and in another comes from Disney's pirate buccaneers, is a philosophical response to the history of slavery. In their line of thinking, their hit single, "Booty Juice," is actually quite sympathetic to women.

Like Spinal Tap, Fear of a Black Hat presents in faux-verite fashion a year in the life of a tumultuous musical group. Also like this movie's predecessor, the public braggadocios get caught in some private difficulties; at one gig the group is billed on the marquee as "also Special Guest," and they have to forcibly make their way past security to get in. Force is their chosen option whenever they run into problems; they draw guns on rival groups and beat up record executives for refusing to accept "Don't Shoot Until You See the Whites" because the song's titular expression ends right there. The Spinal Tap band had trouble keeping drummers alive; five of N.W.H.'s managers -- all white -- somehow end up killed by gunfire. The smarmy toady, the tongue-in-cheek interviewer, the satiric concert, the inevitable breakup, soon followed by the inevitable reunion: Fear of a Black Hat unabashedly imitates -- and lauds -- Reiner's little gem.

A filmmaker with less wit could make all this feel cheap or easy. But writer/director Cundieff knows the rap milieu well enough to pull off most of the antics. Tasty-Taste, who was once a "pharmaceutical distributor" and now boasts a shooting range in his new suburban homestead, shows up at a show with a full-size gold trophy hanging from his neck. Ice Cold appears in a "Jike Spingleton" exploitation film to lecture a drug dealer -- the kingpin is an infant in a baby carriage, and already has a beeper. Ice also complains about his competitors: Ice Tray, Coffee, Water, Berg and Box. And when the group becomes famous, competition much bigger than the wannabe Vanilla Sherbet appears: Hats Ain't Shit.

Occasionally the movie falls short, as when N.W.H.'s anti-violence visit to a grammar school ends up causing a brawl. But even here Cundieff is partly on-target: shots are fired because an opposing gangsta rapper is revealed to have been a prep-school standout, once nicknamed Chip.

Ultimately, Fear of a Black Hat is every bit as funny as Spinal Tap, even if it's not as inspired or as wicked. It doesn't follow through with skewering black politics when a black manager effusively compares N.W.H. to Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Malcolm X -- in skin color. Nor does it ride the race-relations and show-biz hobbyhorses very far when N.W.H. wants 15 dead cops for an album cover, the record company wants none, and their white manager blithely suggests splitting the difference. But it does provide its own brand of public service: the closing credit sequence reveals the difference between a "ho" and a "bitch."

Fear of a Black Hat.
Written and directed by Rusty Cundieff. Starring Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Rusty Cundieff.

Rated R.

86 minutes.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Szatmary