March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

Nicolas Cage, Samuel Jackson, Dabney Coleman

Making a comedy based on racism is obviously a touchy proposition, but writer-director E. Max Frye has sidestepped questions of taste in this case by mostly avoiding the subject. Despite the allusion in its title—to the long-ago hit radio and TV show Amos ‘n’ Andy, which shamelessly exploited (and to some extent created) condescending attitudes toward African-Americans—this scattershot, digressive film is much more a slapstick farce than it is a satire of racist attitudes.

Jackson plays a Pulitzer-prizewinning playwright who buys a house on a very isolated, very white New England resort island and is immediately mistaken for a burglar by neighbors who peer through his window. This leads to a police siege led by politically ambitious local sheriff Coleman. When the siege gets out of hand and gunfire erupts, Coleman sends Cage, a small-time crook, into the house to take Jackson hostage as a red herring.

Jackson, master of understatement that he is, lends the proceedings more dignity than they deserve. And while Cage is just walking through in standard Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart scuzzy delinquent mode, the secondary cast members are fun. Especially likable are Coleman, Brad Dourif as a trigger-happy deputy, Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin as Jackson’s nosy, supposedly liberal neighbors, Aimee Graham as a pizza delivery girl whom Cage is smitten with and Giancarlo Esposito as an Al Sharptonish demagogic minister who leads a demonstration outside Jackson’s house.

There are few pointed jokes or topical references. And with all these people milling around, the comic focus gets diffused. For the most part, Jackson could be white and it would hardly matter, especially when Cage’s spacey rascalily becomes the point of the film. (PG-13)

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