By equal turns hilarious and right on the edge of horrific, “Blindspotting” is a dark comedy as bleak as a given day’s headlines, as goofy as every white guy who ever figured he has a lifetime pass when it comes to using the N-word.
Written by and co-starring friends Tony winner Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton” and Rafael Casal, when it clicks, it’s witty and wise, harrowing and heartbreaking. And even when the effort shows, it’s a marvelous mashup of slacker comedy and drama about violence and its consequences.
Everybody here has blind spots. Collin (Diggs) can’t see his childhood pal, Miles (Casal) as he really is — a loose AK-47 who is a burden on his life. Miles can’t see that his lifetime of acting “hard” doesn’t fit in with his persona as a father and family man in a newly-gentrifying Oakland, where they grew up.
Val (Janina Gavankar) cannot see Collin in his true light after the incident which got him tossed in jail, making him an almost-ex-con (he’s on probation).
And the cops? They can’t see past Collin’s skin color and his braids, see that he’s a By-the-Book Brother with just three days left in his halfway-house probation. He’s a walking, rhyming case of racial profiling waiting to happen.
Miles and Collin work with Commander Movers, and probation or not, Collin’s the responsible one. His ex Val got him the job, a cornerstone of his probation. She’s the clerk who assigns movers to each move, but Collin cannot hit the reset button with her. Nope. No way.
“Collin, just take responsibility for the things happening around you,” Val complains. Collin’s one of those guys things just happen to.
Miles? He’s Eminem and Jay from “Clerks” on steroids, an old school B-boy with the grill, the tattoos and the patter to be down with his homeys, guys Collin would rather not be seen with. Because, you know, probation.
Such as when Miles drags Collin for a ride with Yorkie (Nyambi Nyambi), and it turns out to be a gun sale — a car literally stuffed with pistols, any one of which could stretch Collin’s sentence out to the horizon. Miles needs a piece. To, you know, “protect my family.”
Ashley (Jasmime Cephas Jones) wants their little boy to go to a private school, be bi-lingual, have a head start in life.
“Why he need to be bilingual?” Daddy Miles complains. “He already biracial.”
The yuppies and hipsters are taking over the Oakland these two grew up in, with their house flipping and coffee bars and Priuses and designer glasses and designer coupling, and a good running gag is Miles’ repeated complaint, “Who ARE these people?”
But the best running gag is the contrast between these two. Collin may be rhyming and rocking the braids, but Miles is plainly the “blacker” of the two. Even so, Collin went to jail for an incident that was as much Miles as it was him.
“We got a kind of a ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ thing going on,” Collin admits to the photographer/gallery owner (Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld”) whom they’re moving.
But Miles’ hustling and Collin’s keeping it on the down low until probation is over moved into the background when Collin witnesses a cop (Ethan Embry) shoot a young unarmed black man in the back.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” doesn’t ever seem to work
As Collin has nightmares where a jury all having the murdered man’s face wants the judge (Embry) to hear Collin’s testimony evidence, while his mom (Margo Hall) passes on pamphlets to Ashley about how to have “The Talk” with her little boy, the one about how you act around police to minimize your chances of getting shot, make Collin snap.
Long before this movie showed us, we and he knew “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” didn’t work.
Director Carlos Lopez Estrada knows to film the quick-cut banter and comic confrontations involving the hustler Miles and those he hustles (Tisha Campbell Martin plays hairdresser Mama Liz) in tight, full-faced close-ups. Close-ups are funny.
And he frames the violent moments and dream sequences in full screen, capturing haunting images of Collin facing the judgment of a court, or jogging past a cemetery confronted by a sea of black faces, many wearing hoodies, by each tombstone.
“Blindspotting” turns on a dime, many dimes, as it bobs and weaves between low farce and high, politically-charged melodrama. The ending is a bit much, but even so we feel the story and the characters have earned it.
Diggs makes a case for better-late-than-never screen stardom, though we may have to do something about that hair. Casal has a future as an over-the-top comic foil, a manic hip hop hipster who cajoles, charms, insults and harms with just a wicked, rapid-fire patter which even The Brothers dig. Because, you know, they “like the bounce.”
A star is born. OK, TWO stars.
And with “Blindspotting,” they’ve announced to the world that they’re a screenwriting duo to be reckoned with, one that pretty much doesn’t have any blind spots of its own.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Ethan Embry
Running time: 1:33