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This week:
Hustle and Flow

Filthy says:
"Like sort of enjoying something that doesn't matter."

I'd love to say Hustle and Flow is a movie about my rise from the streets, because I am from the streets. Well, not exactly from them, but I drive them. Or, take the bus on them. That makes me a bit of an expert on street culture. Or, as we on the 52 southbound call it, The Stareetz. And we call ladies Bee-otches because that's a contraction for the way they always be buzzing around like honeybees in our crotches thinking that bulge is a bunch of daisies. No, no, bee-otches, that bulge ain't no flowers; it's my coin purse. They ain't be letting no gangstaz ride the bus for free, yo.

People want to believe in movies like this, I think, because we all wish we had some romantic up-by-the-bootstraps story to tell. Even if not many of us have bootstraps. Hell, I don't even know what they are or why people would need straps on their boots. Or, for that matter, why so many assholes around Colorado wear cowboy boots when they don't have cows. Anyway, an underdog success story beats the hell out of saying you got your job through Dad, live in a studio apartment with a cat named Mr. Lickers and your goal in life is to watch more television.

Hustle and Flow is as sweaty and gritty as a jerky factory in August, but in its guts it's just a formula movie. Terrence Howard plays a Memphis hustler aspiring to get himself out of the ghetto by writing and singing hip-hop. He's a pimp by day with a nasty stable. I mean, these girls look like syphilis warmed over, all mottled, tired and sad. One's a stripper with a baby in the crib, one's pregnant and the last is the workhorse (Taryn Manning), a cornrowed white girl who's the whore equivalent of the Tigers' old pitcher Jack Morris; always willing to take the ball, work late and keep hurling no matter how badly it's going.

Howard's like a lot of poor people: convinced he's better than the world's giving him a chance to show. It ain't his fault he's not rich, he thinks, he just hasn't had the chance. That's not the way I think; I know I've achieved my dreams. The trick is ignoring the ones that require hard work. Anyway, Howard is looking for a way out of the ghetto and thinks he's found one when he hears of an old acquaintance making a fortune with "crunk", a southern form of rap that slathers on the bass like a fat kid with a jar of mayonnaise. He thinks--just as I did when I thought I had read about a man who grew a tail--why can't I do that?

Howard ropes in an old school friend as producer and starts to record his own "crunk", which as far as I can tell is a southern rap style with a really heavy bass line and not a God damn thing in its head. It's party music for people who genuinely believe the party is all that matters.

Once the premise is established, Hustle and Flow turns on the cliches and dramatic flourishes of other bootstrap movies. It's Rocky and 8 Mile without much variation. Howard completes his demo tape against great odds and with a few mildly amusing jokes, then gets it into the hands of his rap hero, Stinky D (Ludacris) or something like that, only to learn that Stinky D isn't such a good guy after all. Guns are drawn, some contrived violence happens and Howard is sent back into the gutter. Of course, when he's lost all hope it becomes a big hit on the radio and he's achieved the fame he believes validates his belief in himself.

Howard's is a pretty great character. He displays a core of decency, protecting his girls, taking care of the baby and waxing about the difference between men and dogs. He's also like a dog getting whacked on the snout, insecure and defensive. He tosses out aone whore and her baby after she brings up the difference between what he presents himself as and who he really is. Which is a two-bit hustler with few connections. Still, he insists he's more because that's what he wants to believe and he's gonna prove it.

Really, the second half of Hustle and Flow goes exactly where you expect it to, but at least it had genuine enough settings and characters to keep me interested. The Memphis setting is pretty damn real feeling, right down to the stifling heat. Sweat drips off the characters, fans are always whirring in the back, and everything moves as though slowed by the density of wet air. The beat up cars, torn window screens and rendezvous under train trestles all plant the movie firmly in reality.

The main problem, though, is that for a movie about getting up by the bootstraps, I never was convinced that Howard did it or deserved it. His motivation for making music is not to get a message or artistic vision out; it's just to make a shitload of money and get famous. The songs he writes are derivative and tired shit about how hard it is to be a pimp and live the hard knock life. I think there might already be a rap song about that. So, we're asked to root for Howard because his goal is to be famous. Not be famous for doing something great. His fame is the reward for his quest for fame. Usually, these kinds of movies are about people who get fame as a nice bonus for becoming the best fighter, best dancer or whatever. But being the best isn't a goal here. It's just being famous.

That's a pretty fucking shallow message, and a bit disappointing. It feels like a cheat that there's not much to this guy's dreams. What separates him from every other poor person besides that he's ambitious? He isn't an undiscovered talent, he's a two-bit pimp with who wants to be rich.

Three Fingers for Hustle and Flow, a nice budget travelogue to Tennessee strapped to a corny plot.

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Jimmy Carter of NBC-TV Nashville

Must Love Dogsis "This summer's perfect date movie!"

Dukes of Hazzard is "The most fun I've had at themovies all summer!"

But, uh, not with a date.

Filthy's Reading
Jake Morrissey - The Genius in the Design

Listening to
Elvis Costello - This Year's Model


The Sinbad Collection