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For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 6, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although he had appeared in a couple of TV movies, this was Denzel Washington’s first theatrical film, and while it’s no great shakes, it is interesting to see him so young (in his mid-20s) and fans may want to check it out. The Shout! Factory has given the comedy a Blu-ray upgrade (to be released May 15), so here’s my review, published Nov. 20, 1981, in the Deseret News.

There are some very ingratiating actors in “Carbon Copy,” especially newcomer Denzel Washington.

But on the whole, this is a clunky comedy that looks like several poorly thought-out skits have been patched together.

The story has Washington, who is black, showing up one day to confront wealthy WASP businessman George Segal with the news that Washington is his illegitimate son. It seems the young man’s mother has died and he’s come to live with his “Dad.”


     Denzel Washington, left, George Segal, 'Carbon Copy'

The results are predictable. Segal’s bigoted wife (Susan Saint James) and father-in-law (Jack Warden) make his life miserable, and Segal is forced to “live a black man’s life,” which to these filmmakers means menial labor and poverty-stricken surroundings. Meanwhile, Segal is re-evaluating his own life and standards, as the audience is preached to about civil rights.

There are some occasional chuckles in all this, thanks largely to the byplay between Washington and Segal; their relationship is enjoyable and often humorous.

But just as often, the formula becomes threadbare. And now and then, it’s downright insulting.

Susan Saint James, who was fun in “Love at First Bite,” uses the same broad acting technique here, and all her charm goes out the window. In fact, she’s such a hateful, humorless stereotype and Segal is painted as such an idealistic, naive sort, one wonders how he could ever abandon Washington’s mother for this shrew.


Stilted acting (particularly Dick Martin’s incessant, irritating mugging) might in part be blamed on director Michael Schultz, whose “Which Way is Up?,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Car Wash” also have a stiff, sketchy look about them, but the script, by veteran Oscar-winner Stanley Shapiro, is the real problem.

Though Shapiro has given us such wonderful comedies as “Pillow Talk,” “Operation Petticoat” and “Lover Come Back” in the past, his more recent work has been awfully spotty — such as the Barbara Streisand misfire “For Pete’s Sake.”

“Carbon Copy” looks like it was inspired by “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which, while it had some problems, benefited from superb casting and an interesting idea that was well developed. Not so here.

Rated PG for profanity, including the uttering of that word that’s supposed to bring an R, this picture is infrequently funny with many dry spells. Despite some good lines, “Carbon Copy” is merely a pale imitation of what it should have been.