Provocative 'Hustle & Flow'; bombastic 'Island'
EVEN PIMPS HAVE dreams. that is the starting point for first time writer-director Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow. With Terrence Howard's amazing performance providing the rock solid hook, Brewer provides a backbeat of delightful supporting performances and a flow of schemes, dreams and rap rhymes that take us on a journey inside a man's soul.
DJay (Howard) is a minor-league pimp in his hometown of Memphis. His bare bones "stable" of ladies consists of the skinny white girl Nola (Taryn Manning); the mouthy, belligerent stripper Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) and the pregnant, easily startled Shug (Taraji P. Henson).
DJay is a pimp with a poetic soul, but this does not mean he feels bad about using his women to make a living. While he doesn't use violence to keep them in line, he does use his skills as a hustler. He and Nola spend the day in his beat-up car waiting for johns to drive up. Shug, a woman who was perhaps abused before hooking up with DJay, takes care of their home and Lexus' baby, as she waits for her own delivery. Lexus, when she isn't turning tricks at the strip joint, bitches and complains and generally makes life miserable for everyone around her.
DJay uses Nola as a sounding board to expound on his philosophy of life as they wait for customers. His dream is to be a rapper. A chance meeting with an old school pal, Key (Anthony Anderson), who produces music for a local church, puts his ultimate scheme in motion. Key will produce a demo of DJay's streetwise, my-life-as-a-pimp raps. DJay will then slip a copy to superstar rapper Skinny Black (Chris Bridges, a.k.a. the real life rapper Ludacris), when he comes back to his hometown for a visit. Key brings his skinny white pal Shelby (DJ Qualls) on board to help mix the demo. The household now revolves around DJay's grand scheme.
Brewer is too much of a realist and a cynic to have this scheme run smoothly. The meeting with Skinny Black is fraught with the tension of a man who has made it and isn't looking to help anyone else, and a dreamer desperate to believe otherwise. What happens next is a natural progression of the beat Brewer is laying down, yet shaded with just enough hope to capture our rooting interest in a pimp's progress towards a better life.
Howard's low rent pimp is a fascinating creation; he is a man overloaded with contradictions, in particular a brand of selfishness that is tempered with compassion for others, except when it interferes with his plans. Manning is delightful as Nola, who finds her road towards career advancement via DJay's dream. Anderson, Qualls and Henson also enrich the mix.
Filmmaker Craig Brewer is an exciting new discovery, so go with the Flow.
Send in the Clones There is an island within the bombastic Michael Bay sci-fi action pic The Island. That island is the intriguing premise - an idea that examines the moral dilemma of growing sentient, genetic copies of people in order to harvest organs, or to provide a living incubator. When The Island sets up this premise, the movie is an effective nod to such innovative science fiction predecessors as THX 1138, Logan's Run and Blade Runner. Unfortunately, The Island is eventually slammed with a Michael Bay tsunami, a wave of action sequences that are so preposterous they drown the excellent premise, and waste the talents of Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Here's a sci-fi nightmare for you: in the future, all filmmakers are clones of Michael Bay.
Hustle & Flow ***
Written & directed by Craig Brewer; Rated R for violence, language, adult themes
The Island **
Directed by Michael Bay; Rated PG13 for violence, language
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