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"Hustle & Flow"

Directed by Craig Brewer.
Written by Craig Brewer.
Starring Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson and Ludacris.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  7/27/2005

Folks--

I had been hearing about how great "Hustle & Flow", the new hip-hop saga from writer/director Craig Brewer, ever since Sundance this year, so finally I got the chance to see what all the hype is about.  This much I know--even though it's not great in the way I thought it was going to be, this was a great time at the movies thanks to truly great music and a noteworthy performance from star Terrence Howard.

The thing is, I have always like Howard in other films; kind of like Paul Giamatti before he did "American Splendor" a couple years back, Howard has been a bit player with edge for 10 years now, showing up in "Dead Presidents" a forever ago and doing bit parts on TV shows and shitty movies for some time now.  (How low did he go?  Two words:  "Glitter.")  Finally, Howard got his hands on a lead role and all he does is knock it straight out of the park.  His character, Memphis-based pimp/pusher DJay, is wrong on a hundred levels, but you still see in this role a chance to do something totally different and Howard just scoops it up and runs with it.

DJay presides over an interesting household--he's got a hooker named Nola (Taryn Manning) who is the perfect visual for white trash; he's got a former girlfriend named Shug (Taraji Henson) who looks so pitiful & helpless that you find yourself extending a new box of Kleenex in her direction every time she walks onscreen; and he's got a stripper named Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) that has a kid and a mean streak; the four of these folks don't seem to get along so well but they're trying to find a way to make it.  One day, after hearing that old high school classmate Skinny Black (Ludacris) will be back in town to celebrate the success of his new platinum hip-hop album, DJay gets it in his head that he should start pursuing his dream of getting into the music biz...and with the help of a gospel sound man (Anthony Anderson) and a white beats man from that guy's church (DJ Qualls, from "Road Trip"), DJay sets off to make his own demo tape.

There's a lot to love in "Hustle & Flow", from the performances of Howard, Anderson, Henson and Manning to the rags-to-rags style of the "rise" of DJay to greatness.  Even though real life seems to be saturated with tales of former drug dealers (say, a Jay-Z), criminals or pimps turned rap stars, movies aren't...so, the story of a pimp that gets into recording gangsta rap all the while treating his tricks like shit and dealing weed on the side isn't exactly your run-of-the-mill right now.  (I'm having a flash right now that's telling me after our run of gladiator epics and PG-13 horror films, the next wave of genre flicks will be pimps-turned-rappers flicks.)  See, even the last film that kind of reminds you of all of this, "8 Mile", features a lead that doesn't seem to be a bad guy at all; DJay is a bastard in many ways, early on and late, so sympathy for him is an interesting idea even if you factor in his efforts to feed his extended family.

All of this going on is great, but certainly my favorite part of "Hustle & Flow" was the music; the songs are great, the beats are phat...and, the rap choruses are just perfect, because during my favorite sequence--when DJay and his production team come up with the beats and the licks for "Whoop Dat Trick!"--you get to watch a microcosm of what goes into a song.  Now, other movies have done that well; even "School of Rock" has a great scene like this where the kids and their teacher (Jack Black) come up with a beat.  But, it's a very little thing, funny at first where DJay wants to call the song "Beat That Bitch!" before the gospel man backs DJay up.  "Wait a second, man" he starts in, "you want this thing to get on the radio, right?  How 'bout we change the line a little bit..."

And they come up with a line that works for pimps, for guys, for girls, for anybody...and the way the three guys in the "studio" (a room DJay converts in his own house by adding coffee holders and blankets to muffle sound) start dancing and waving and shakin' around to "Whoop Dat Trick!" is hilarious.  Of course, the beat had people around me doing a pretty synchronized head-bob, but the whole scene reminded me of what it must have been like in the Ludacris studio when he made "Move, Bitch!" with Mystikal a couple years ago.   They needed to make the song not male hatred of women...no, they needed to make it sound like anybody could be talking to anybody else, and the resulting song is still one of my favorite club songs ever.  Why?  Because an equal number of guys and girls are singing along to the chorus; seriously, watching a pack of girls wave their arms while shouting "MOVE, BITCH...GET OUT THE WAY...GET OUT THE WAY BITCH, GET OUT THE WAY!!!" is flat-out awesome.  Can't beat it.

"Hustle & Flow" has other great musical sequences, in addition to some pretty strong dramatic moments (Lexus and the doorway meeting was my highlight in this regard) and a sweet ending.  But, it's a fun movie that mixes good laughs with a little weight in terms of the drama and it has a killer soundtrack if you're a hip-hop fan.  Check, check, check...check it out!

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

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 bad...man, 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/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09