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February 2008

By Kam Williams


Distributor: American Cinema International
Director: Bill Duke
Producers: Bill Duke, Warren Kohler, Corey Redmond
Screenwriters: Aaron Rahsaan Thomas & Aliya Jackson
Cast: Aunjanue Ellis, Razaaq Adoti, Vivica A. Fox, Lou Gossett Jr., Richard Gant, Patti LaBelle, Leon, Mya Harrison, Paula Jai Parker, Roger Gueneveur Smith, Victoria Platt Tilford, Clayton Prince




Valerie Maas’ (Aunjanue Ellis) world comes apart at the seams the day she catches her husband, Dutch(Raz Adoti), in the shower naked with another man. She doesn’t buy his “It’s not what it looks like defense,” and realizes she’s been living a lie for years, with a man who didn’t even use protection while on the so-called down-low.

But before she can figure out how to break the news that daddy is bisexual to their young daughter, Nicole (Tomorrow Baldwin Montgomery), Valerie finds herself behind bars and facing a murder rap. Fortunately, this churchgoing Christian has a strong enough faith to help her bear the burden of being wrongfully accused.

On the way to clearing her name, we’re treated to such silliness in Philly that one has to wonder exactly what’s going on here. For Cover, directed by veteran director Bill Duke, is an unintentionally funny, flashback flick which is practically impossible to take seriously at face value.

For example, one character calls homosexuality a “white disease.” Another, who has AIDS, boasts about secretly “sharing the gift,” meaning having unprotected sex with people who don’t know he’s HIV+, illogically explaining that he’d rather be a monster than honest.

As confusing as it is improbable, this mess of a movie wastes a talented cast which includes Vivica A. Fox, Lou Gossett, Jr., Leon, Patti LaBelle, Paula Jai Parker, Clifton Davis, Roger Guenveur Smith and Mya. However, the goings-on bear such little resemblance to reality, that I was often unsure what genre of movie I was even watching.

A blaxploit? A sci-fi adventure? An out of the closet drama? A whodunit? A genderbending romance? A slapstick sitcom? Likely, a little of all of the above. The only thing of consequence I learned was to be wary of any guy who comes up to me and offers to blow a piece of dust out of my eye. Apparently those are code words used by black gays to proposition strangers, wink-wink.

A disaster which attempts to address a pressing social issue, but only fails miserably in the process.

At the point of departure, we meet Walter, Jr. (Combs) a hard-working 35 year-old chauffeur in the process of assuming the role of patriarch of a family comprised of his pregnant wife, Ruth (McDonald), his son, Travis (Justin Martin), his exhausted, domestic servant mother, Lena (Rashad), and his sister, Beneathea (Lathan), following the death of his father. The plot revolves around the question of how Walter. Sr.’s life insurance proceeds ought to be spent.

Grandma thinks they should use the $10,000 to buy a home in a white neighborhood, since the five of them are currently cramped in a rundown, roach-infested apartment. College student Beneathea wants some of the money to pay for med school, while ambitious Walter would like to invest in a liquor store with his pal, Bobo (Nunn), and smooth-talking Willy (Ron C. Jones). And when Lena hands the check over to her son as the new man of the house, it’s just a matter of time before she comes to regret that ill-advised decision.

Helped immeasurably by his principal cast of his talented co-stars, Diddy comes of age as an actor here, delivering a memorable performance in an African-American literary classic of Shakespearean proportions which proves to be every bit as relevant today as the day it was first staged.