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"Black Snake Moan"

Directed by Craig Brewer.
Written by Craig Brewer.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, John Cothran Jr., and Justin Timberlake.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  2/7/07


As occasionally funny and quirky as "Black Snake Moan" is, I liked Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow" a lot better.

The director was in town last night to push his newest flick, which debuted at Sundance a few weeks ago, and judging by the rush of the crowd to leave the theater before the Q&A could begin (sure, maybe it was the snow!), I think a few other folks were not blown away by this drama.  Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lazarus, a cropper in modern-day Tennessee who has just watched his wife leave him for another man.  Meanwhile, somewhere across town, Rae (Christina Ricci) loses her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) for a tour of duty when Ronnie leaves to join the National Guard.  Left on her own, she has an uncanny ability to get laid, oh, all day long if left to her own devices.  The lives of Lazarus and Rae intersect when, after Rae runs into a guy who physically abuses her and leaves her for dead on a back road, Lazarus is the first to run into her sprawled-out, near-naked body and he takes her in to care for her.  But, when Lazarus discovers that Rae is a sexpot just waiting to explode, he doesn't have the urge to get up in, sir, he wants to CURE our little lady, and to do that, he goes to some extreme measures to make that happen.  And, thanks to the fact that Laz is black and Rae is white, we have a reverse slavery situation that makes the situation even more dicey...especially when Ronnie comes back from his "tour" REALLY early.

Like I said, "Black Snake Moan" is curious, certainly it is different, and these differences lead to a few laughs.  The best thing about the film, by far, is its bluesy soundtrack; Brewer, who hails from Tennessee and considers himself a true blues aficionado, seems to have really worked hard to make the music of the film feel genuine, right down to the Laz character and his former blues frontman past.  And, between a couple of lounge numbers, a sweaty dance crowd and the power of music to calm a soul, "Black Snake Moan" is almost a blues thriller.  Where the film falls to mediocrity is in the fact that Laz uses his blues powers (and, a big fucking chain) to help "heal" Rae and her sex-loving ways to do good, not evil, and after the initial promise of chaining Rae up in his house, I felt the story broke down a bit to become this coming-of-age dramedy, saved a bit by even more music.  One has to give Brewer credit--he has captured so much about the musical experience in his two major films (he made one before "Hustle & Flow" that was straight to video), and in his upcoming film, apparently he is going after country (per some of the questions he answered in the Q&A).

The performances by most of the actors in "Black Snake Moan" are solid; Jackson and Ricci (who hasn't been in a wide release since 2003's similarly-white-trashy role in "Monster") are great, and Ricci soaks up playing white trash in a Brewer film following the also-great white-trashy performance by Taryn Manning in "Hustle & Flow."  Timberlake is so-so; he didn't make me bite as well as he did in "Alpha Dog", but at least this movie is better!  The support is great, chiefly from John Cothran, Jr. as Lazarus's best friend and preacher, and S. Epatha Merkerson (from "Law & Order") as the pharmacist next door who loves her some Samuel L. Jackson!

But, overall, the storytelling her just didn't get me as fired up as "Hustle & Flow" did, and I'll admit to having some expectations coming into this.  Certainly, if you haven't seen "Hustle & Flow", see "Black Snake Moan" when it comes out in two weeks then rent the previous film...I think you will be happy that you did.  I still wanted to leave the theater last night and yell "WHOOP DAT TRICK!  WHOOP DAT TRICK!", but it just seemed a tad bit inappropriate. 

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09