The reviews for `Amos & Andrew' are all over the place, from Leonard Maltin's `BOMB' to The Washington Post Style section critic's rave (though the Post's Weekend section reviewer gave it a devastating pan).
Any movie that gets this range of reaction is not all bad, and `Amos & Andrew' has a number of redeeming values.
Its racial satire (which can be serious as well as slapstick, often in the same minute) seems a natural extension of Stanley Kramer's `The Defiant Ones' (1958). In both films, a white and a black man are handcuffed together and escaping from the law.
The differences between the films are telling, however. In `Defiant,' both men are racists. They know little about each other's race, except what they think is the bad stuff (if I remember the film correctly). But both are poor and, as the film reveals, have much more in common than they thought.
In `A&A,' the black man is a third generation, college-educated upper middleclass professional. He has succeeded in a white world (Pulitzer-prize; well-paid for his books and screenplays; a celebrity and a college professor; and more). But he still dislikes and distrusts whites, with reason.
The white man is a drifter and petty thief, but he doesn't dislike blacks; indeed, he probably knows them better than the black man. And he's as much an outsider as the black man.
These ideas, and the comedy evolving from them, make `A&A' fascinating and, sometimes in a simplistic way, thought-provoking. The humor often is sharp and funny, though it can become too silly and off the point. So the film is both clever and stupid, original and cliché.
I often found myself laughing out loud as the film piled on smart gag after smart gag, slowing down only at the obvious, familiar and overplayed ones.
Some may find the basic premise, a black man thought to be a burglar only because he's seen in a house in an exclusive white neighborhood, as tasteless and offensive, or at least not played out with sufficient outrage.
Others may be grateful that such a pointed idea was dramatized without self-righteous anger and superiority. To them, this modest, light touch conveyed the message much more effectively, especially to those who needed to hear it, than a harder-edged film might have.
Overall, there's enough good stuff in 'A&A,' including the acting by Nicholas Cage (when he still was good) and Samuel L. Jackson to push the film to a 2 ½ to 3-star rating. It's worth a look.