Carbon Copy (1981)
“Any resemblance between father and son is purely hysterical.”
So says the trailer for this racial comedy that strives too hard for it’s laughs and social commentary despite an above average cast led by light comedian and likable leading man George Segal. Truthfully, the main reason for trying to locate this tame effort is to get a look at a young actor that the opening credits give special billing to.
“Introducing Denzel Washington”
Starring as a middle aged executive with a rich wife and powerful father in law, Segal seems rather bored with his life and isn’t exactly happy with wife Susan Saint James when it comes to his dried up sex life. Jack Warden plays her father who owns the firm that employs Segal. He politely suggests that Segal find himself a mistress.
It’s been a trying day for Mr. Segal that’s about to take a turn for a pleasant memory from the past that ends up giving him a good swift kick in the lower regions.
Walking into his office is a young man played by Denzel. He wants to let Segal know that his mother has died leaving him a seventeen year old orphan. It seems that Segal had romanced the woman for a three year period when he was a youngster. An interracial marriage would not have been good for his budding career and when Warden in flashback suggests he end the relationship to better his advancement, he dutifully obeys.
The next announcement is the shocker when Denzel calls him “daddy.” Life for Segal is about to take a sudden turn for the worst when the truth is finally revealed to Saint James and Warden. She’s quick to lament to Segal, “God will never forgive you for having a black child.”
Segal quickly finds himself disowned by all in his rich inner circle when he refuses to disown Denzel. This leads to one of the funnier exchanges when Segal spars with Minister Tom Poston over religion and ethics. Poston is quick to remind Segal that “God is white.” In the end Segal is barred from his office, and quickly finds himself penniless as he’s married into the rich family. Now he’s on the outside with no means of support and Warden has ensured he’s been blacklisted.
Even his pot smoking lawyer Dick Martin sides with Saint James but gives him the name of another lawyer who might be of help. Another racially motivated joke by the scriptwriter? I suppose so as it’s Paul Winfield. Time for a bit of a role reversal in Segal’s living quarters.
Perhaps this might have worked better as a sitcom?
There is still a good half hour remaining by this point to work out all the kinks and find a somewhat peaceable solution to Segal’s world of troubles. The problem is it’s just not all that interesting and in the end it’s really a case of “who cares.”
While there are a few jokes that cause a slight smile here, the majority of them just fall flat. It’s not that I would call them racially offensive either. There just not all that comical.
Vignettes like Segal assuming he and Denzel can win a tourney of two on two basketball against a rather chubby white guy and his out of shape father. Surely Denzel must be a basketball player and this looks to be an easy mark. His hustling scheme backfires when Denzel has no skill whatsoever on the court. Kind of a reverse “white men can’t jump” plot ploy.
According to IMDB trivia, George Segal wound up in this film after turning down the lead role in Arthur. Funny how the roles that come and go might be considered a huge mistake yet on the other hand give us film fans someone else turning in a memorable performance or in many cases iconic. If this is an absolute fact, Segal may not have given us as great an Arthur compared to what Dudley Moore did with the role but I think it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be as disregarded as this one turned out to be.
Forgettable as this might be, at least it didn’t harm Mr. Washington’s future in the end. He’s one of those actors whose participation in a film generally means I’ll make an effort to get a look at it in time.
So with Carbon Copy, a title which in itself carries a double meaning, I can now say I have finally caught up with this rare Denzel title.