February 03, 2003 12:00 PM

Showtime (Sun., Feb. 2, 8 p.m. ET)

When a rising black lawyer and future judge (Danny Glover) moves his family to the exclusive suburb of Greenwich, Conn., in 1973, he picks a house that’s white on white, inside and out. All too clearly, a painful bleaching process has begun.

Provocative and disdainful of subtlety—note that Glover’s character is named Tom Spader—this TV movie from Spike Lee’s production company hammers home the point that success and social status are not worth the sacrifice of racial identity. Seen through the eyes of Tom’s wife, Mabel (Whoopi Goldberg), the rich neighborhood ladies are all empty-headed magpies. “Save me from the crazy white people!” Mabel shouts to herself. But nothing can deliver her, not even booze and pills, until a brash black lottery winner (Mo’Nique from The Parkers) buys a nearby house and stirs something in Mabel’s soul.

Though director Ernest Dickerson strikingly captures the sterility of the Spaders’ surroundings, he sometimes fails to negotiate the sharp turns from comedy to dead-serious drama. Goldberg tends to seem disengaged even when Mabel isn’t supposed to be in a haze, and the character of Tom lacks dimension because we get only fleeting glimpses of him in his work environment. In its best moments, however, the film evokes our sympathy for this striver who sinks into self-hatred.

BOTTOM LINE: Sticks in the mind despite its flaws

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