True Identity: Charles Lane’s Comedy, Starring British Comedian Lenn Henry

Charles Lane’s comedy, True Identity, is a showcase for Lenny Henry, the British comedian who is a master of accents and mimicry. Henry plays a struggling black actor, Miles Pope, whose dream is to play Othello, but whose experience has been limited to playing a raisin in a TV commercial.

On a plane about to crash, Miles gets a confession from a businessman named Leland Carver (Frank Langella), who’s actually underworld boss Frank Luchino, long thought to be dead. But the plane doesn’t crash, and Luchino puts out a contract on Miles.

Miles has to disguise himself, which results in embodiment of outrageous personalities. Henry is least interesting when he plays a sincere man, and most entertaining as a hit man, Frank LaMotta. In white-face, with false nose and wig, LaMotta is so convincing that he gets the contract to rub himself out. He also masquerades as James Brown’s brother, dressed in a purple velvet tux, and plays Mile’s best friend, Duane, a makeup man who provides Henry’s disguises; the running gag is that the 5-foot-5-inch Duane is obsessed with tall and hefty women.

The film was written by Andy Breckman, who expanded it from a Eddie Murphy routine for “Saturday Night Live.” In that sketch, a white-faced Murphy discovered how white people live when there are no black people around; everything in stores is free, there are cocktail parties on trains, and so on. As in Hollywood Shufffle, a white acting coach wants Miles to be more “Harlemesque.” Despite a few stabs at racial stereotypes, True Identity was impaired by a disappointing direction.