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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Fear of a Black Hat (1994)

"I'm Nina Blackburn, and what you're about to see is a documentary on the rap group NWH, Niggaz Wit Hats."
- Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 10, 2003

Stars: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence
Other Stars: Kasi Lemmons, Howie Gold, Devin Kamienny, Kurt Loder
Director: Rusty Cundieff

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong language and for sexuality
Run Time: 01h:27m:59s
Release Date: July 08, 2003
UPC: 043396011229
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-B-B- B

DVD Review

Fear of a Black Hat is the 1994 rap/hip-hop answer to 1984's This is Spinal Tap, a fact that writer/director Rusty Cundieff readily admits to on this disc's accompanying commentary track. With that open confession out of the way, it is far easier to sit back and enjoy the parody and humor of this genre copycat, as Cundieff caustically lampoons the rap world with much of the same degree of dead-on accuracy that Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer did with Tap. While this project isn't as consistently smooth as Rob Reiner's film, it does manage to sufficiently poke and prod its subjects with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud absurdity.

Presented in fake documentary style, the film chronicles the rise, fall, and rise of gangsta rap group NWH (Niggaz Wit Hats), whose members are philosophizing frontman Ice Cold (Cundieff), tough guy Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott, best known as Lamar from The Revenge of the Nerds) and dim-witted Tone-Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence). Through the eyes of Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons), we get concert footage, music videos, interviews and "real-life" situations (like their constant battles with censorship) that are meant to mock a type of music that is certainly ripe for parody; this is, after all, a world where performers with names like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Ice Cube, Fifty Cent, and Ol' Dirty Bastard exist, so how far to the left does Cundieff really have to go to mine a laugh or two?

My theoretical problems with Fear of a Black Hat stem largely from a conceptual problem I had with the finished product, whereby the so-called documentary footage never appears to be such, with many of the sequences looking like carefully staged shots, without that chaotic jostling required of the one-camera fake doc genre. That may be a minor beef, I suppose, but there were more than a few scenes that took me out of the "moment," and reminded me that this wasn't really a documentary (even though, of course, I already knew that); the one that really comes to mind is the scene where Ice Cold gets stopped by a pair of security guards, which appears to use a high crane shot. Odd.

Obviously, much of Cundieff's intended humor will be funnier to those "in the know," and while I may have picked up on the My Peanuts parody of Run D.M.C.'s My Adidas, I'm sure those better schooled in the rap world will find more layered humor than was apparent to my suburban white guy world. Some of the humor seems particularly tired (a Vanilla Ice character name Vanilla Sherbert), and the whole rap parody manages to become a bit repetitive and threadbare at times during the 90-minute runtime. Still, the uneven moments are outweighed by sporadic, though genuinely funny highlights, such as the band defending the non-racial origins of their song Kill Whitey or Tasty Taste's recurring use of the phrase "bust a cap in your ass," which made me laugh every time, I'm sorry to say. The best moments come not from the sometimes rambling "real" moments, but from the talking-head interview segments when NWH expounds comically on their perceived self-importance.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The nonanamorphic 1:85:1 widescreen transfer is nothing exceptional, and the transfer holds true to the films fake documentary look, as well as its low-budget roots. Colors are a bit lacking in the brightness department, but overall the presentation is ordinarily decent, if not just plain nondescript. No major source print flaws or defects were evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: As a fake documentary, the 2.0 surround is more than adequate, but the music videos and concert footage could have benefited from a beefier mix. As it is, the dialogue is presented cleanly, though the music is noticeably flat, and lacking any sort of significant bottom end.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Laurel Canyon
14 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rusty Cundieff
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music Videos
Extras Review: There's quite a bit of extra content, though not all of it hits the mark. The good stuff includes a full-length, scene-specific commentary from writer/director Rusty Cundieff, and while he shows himself to be miles away from his street-tough film character Ice Cold (he proudly admits to being a middle class guy), his nonstop patter is well-structured and informative. In addition to openly confessing that This is Spinal Tap was his influence for Fear of a Black Hat, Cundieff chats about its origins as a short film, and how that matured into a feature film project. For those less-schooled in some of the more subtle rap parodies (like me), Cundieff points 'em out in an effort to help sell the humor in the film.

There are a whopping twelve music videos for the NWH songs, including the funny parody of The Tubes' White Punks on Dope, here entitled White Cops on Dope, featuring The Cars' Ric Ocasek(!). Most of these videos are not featured in their entirety in the film, so it was good for a laugh to see them uncut, as it were. The videos are:
My Peanuts
Grab Yo Stuff
Guerillas in the Midst
Booty Juice
F**k the Security Guards
Come Get the P.***Y.
I'm Just a Human
Granny Says Kick Yo Black Ass
Wear Your Hat (Buried and Bald)
Wear Your Hat (Buried and Bald 2)
White Cops on Dope
Ice Froggy Frog
Soundtrack commercial

The fourteen brief deleted scenes, a few of which are nothing more than intros to the music videos, are no more or less funny than the content included in the finished film. If you really liked Fear of a Black Hat, these excised clips will make you chuckle, while if you thought the film ran out of gas early you might consider these snippets so much unnecessary stuff.

The filler includes three so-called "ridiculous interviews," one each with Rusty Cundieff (12m:47s), Mark Christopher Lawrence (17m:11s), and Larry B. Scott (18m:25s). These overlong exercises have the actors in character, answering inane questions, and even the shortest segment, at 12 minutes, goes on far too long. The Hosted Version Feature just adds a short intro to the start of the film, and is relatively pointless.

Rounding things out are a set of trailers (two for the feature, plus Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and Laurel Canyon). The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features subtitles in English.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The one-note humor wears a little thin at times, but Fear of a Black Hat still has moments of sharp parody and just plain funny dialogue.

Worth a rental.


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