There are few hard-and-fast rules in screenwriting, but here's one I think we can agree on: Something's gone wrong if your crowd-pleasing family drama asks audiences to hope a child's father proves to be a crackhead. That's one baffling turn in Mike Binder's Black or White, a movie about race in America that, for all its efforts at broad-minded truth-telling, can't resist insisting its crotchety old white-guy hero is right about everything, even when he comes right out and calls the young black man who fathered his grandchild a "street nigger."
A consummately rumpled Kevin Costner plays well-heeled, just-widowed power-lawyer Elliott, suddenly the primary caregiver for his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell), a moppet so blessed in cutes/charisma that you feel, when you're fortunate enough to regard her, something like what a cat must as it stretches out where the sun hits the floor. Elliott's daughter, now dead, conceived Eloise with Reggie, the onetime crack smoker who claims he's gotten his life back together. He's urged into pursuing custody of Eloise by his mother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer). The result is two hours of sleepy, hard-to-swallow legal wrangling that really could have used a polish from the Good Wife writers' room.
Not since the last Dinesh D'Souza flick has a movie seemed so eager to tell us who are the good black people and who the bad ones. One black character upbraids another for coming across like what racist whites might think black folks are like: "You're a goddamn cliché! A perfect stereotype!" lawyer Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie) says to Reggie, a sad-eyed addict and deadbeat dad. If only Reggie could respond, "Why aren't you yelling at the writer-director who imagined me?"
Black or White is not showing in any theaters in the area.