‘Wondrous Oblivion’ (2003)

So, Delroy Lindo . 13 years ago he was the one shining moment — an uncredited cameo in the otherwise execrable adaptation of Michael Crichton’s ‘ Congo ‘ — forget that Crichton has become a flack for the anti-Global Warming lobby. Hats off to Laura Linney and Dylan Walsh there and all, but Delroy stole your movie, even though his participation there was limited to all of 5 minutes of screen-time.

16 years ago, he was West Indian Archie in Spike Lee’s award-winning ‘Malcolm X’ (1992) adaptation, but what has he done between then and now? ‘Clockers’ in 1995, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ in 1997, ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ in 2000, ‘The Core’ in 2003 and ‘Domino’ in 2005 — sure he’s been working , but in each one of those roles, he’s been relegated to supporting roles rather than the front-and-center position that one would think that he’d have earned by now.

And 3 weeks ago, you can imagine my chagrin in seeing him on the cover of ‘Wondrous Oblivion’ (2003), appearing in what appears to be a family picture, supporting some white kid.

From badass to lovable Cricket instructor, Lindo’s career reads like Michael Chiklis in reverse , so you can imagine my reluctance to uncan and spool this film.

Fact of the matter, Wondrous Oblivion isn’t that bad of a film. What the film concerns is an awkward moment in British history — the early ’60′s — when South London became integrated — when Jewish immigrants (refugees, really) became the neighbors of West Indian immigrants in one of the Thames’ poorer quarters. When one group of ethnics takes up residence in anothers’ traditional neighborhood, there are always tensions, and so it goes with Oblivion .

Here, Sam Smith plays young, Jewish David Wiseman, whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust to relocate in England. David’s mother, Lillian, is married to Victor, 20-30 years her senior as a matter, one assumes, of economic security. David is a cricket fan who obsessively collects cricket paraphernalia, though he has no skill at the game and is relegated as the scorekeeper at his grammar school. Enter into this picture Dennis Samuels (Delroy Lindo) and his family, not to mention his two young daughters (Leonie Elliot as Judy and Naomi Simpson as Dorothy) . It also turns out that Dennis also a cricket fanatic and no sooner than moving in next door to the Wisemans, he constructs a netted practice-area in his backyard.

Of course, David’s father and the xenophobic, working-class people of David’s Brixton neighborhood take umbrage, such that hate-mail is followed by other threats while Dennis teaches David to play a proper game of cricket. This is all fairly by-the-numbers stuff that we’ve seen in movies as formulaic as ‘The Karate Kid’ (1984) and ‘The Bad News Bears’ (1976) and ‘My Bodyguard’ (1980). The thing that makes this film a bit more palatable is the examination of racial tension and the picture we get of South London during that period.

But the always-painful aspect of movies like this — and it is a ‘movie’ rather than a ‘film’ — is the odd paternaistic aspect of a non-Caucasian male taking over the parenting duty for some white kid. What the frak is up with that? What’s going on that all of these white kids have absentee fathers? Don’t these guys — especially Delroy here — have kids of their own to look after, without being saddled with the neighbor’s kid?

I sort of appreciate the effort to create some sort of cultural outreach here, but ultimately, the effort stretches credulity somewhat, here. In the real world, Dennis Samuels would be making an effort to keep David away from his daughters, for fear of some sort of collateral damage by association, since local racists would be as likely to assault his girls as well as young David, especially if they were seen together. This Mister Miyagi nonsnse is better suited to greeting cards than movies that might be seen by impressionable children. There’s also a suggestion of romance here, between Dennis and David’s mother that’s best left unspoken.

Making a notable contribution to this film is the music — authentic ska, courtesy of Judy and Naomi, without which, this would simply be another by-the-numbers, coming-of-age and learned racial tolerance film.

This one gets an extra star just becasue Lindo is in it and young Leonie Elliot turns in a memorable performance.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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