In the minimal storyline of Whiteboys, Flip (Danny Hoch) and his cronies James (Dash Mihok) and Trevor (Mark Webber) spend their days in their small Iowa farm town rehearsing rap tunes and making money by selling drugs (actually baking powder). When Flip meets Khalid (Eugene Bird), an upper-class black student, he sees his chance at becoming a gangsta rapper and genuine drug dealer. After saving Khalid from a run-in with the law, Flip requests to visit Khalid's hometown, Chicago, and meet some street pushers. But the eventual encounter turns ugly and violent. Upon his return to Iowa, Flip realizes the negative side to the lifestyle he adores.

Whiteboys would be just another teenage coming-of-age picture if it didn't focus on such a dislikeable protagonist. Hoch's Flip is based on a character he created for his one-man stage work and reflects the resentful, apathetic yet gangsta rap-oriented attitude of many young white working-class males today. (The white embrace of hip-hop culture is also the subject of James Toback's forthcoming Black and White.) Flip talks in filthy street language, argues with his hard-working parents (Rich Komenich, Annabel Armour), scorns the idea of a real job for himself, and revels in the gangsta milieu. Worst of all, he raps terribly!

To some, Flip might be considered downright reprehensible, and, unlike Seth Green in Can't Hardly Wait, Hoch does nothing to soften or sweeten Flip in appearance or mannerisms. Thus, it is a little hard to understand why anybody would want to hang around Flip, particularly his pleasant, attractive girlfriend Sara (Piper Perabo), the bright, earnest Khalid or, for that matter, any viewer of this movie.

On the other hand, it is courageous of director/co-writer Marc Levin (Slam) to build an entire film around such a shallow person. (Levin also clearly respects Hoch's performance art, with some scenes sounding downright improvised.) Even the expected redemption finale barely constitutes an epiphany; by that time, the audience hardly cares about Flip as he writes, 'I'm ashamed at what I'm representing.'

Levin takes further chances mixing cinema-verit with low-budget Walter Mitty-style fantasy sequences, which illustrate Flip's dreams of success (one finds him torching a cornfield to make popcorn while surrounded by bikini-clad women in jeeps; another puts him in prison with real-life rapper Snoop Dogg).

But Levin fails to stage either kind of scene with clarity or style: The fantasy sequences resemble early, primitive music-videos, and the amateurish supporting cast and bit players severely cramp the attempt at kitchen-sink realism in the everyday scenes. In particular, Komenich and Armour seem like stereotypes of working-class parents.

More disturbingly, Levin takes too ambivalent an attitude toward gangsta rap itself, and ends up pandering both to those who like it and those who don't. Thus, the tone is faintly parodic and Whiteboys ends up saying, 'Stick to your own race.' Nothing new or progressive here.

--Eric Monder