Hustle and Flow
2005Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, DJ Qualls
t is a truth universally acknowledged that a pimp in possession of a good ho must be in want of a recording contract.
Of course, that’s how it is. Of course, pimpin’ ain’t easy. Of course, life is hard for everyone, and of course, it’s no different for a pimp. Of course, the Memphis summers, they’re hot and steamy and grimy and gray, and all those other things you might imagine about summer in Memphis that would make life that much harder for a pimp. But mostly, it’s hot, which we know because everyone is sweating like mad. Of course.
Hustle and Flow, the new movie from first-time director Craig Brewer, tells us the story of just such a pimp. It’s entertaining, well-made, and keeps moving on. The problem is we know exactly where it’s moving on to and we’ve been there before. It’s as if, in an attempt to make Hustle and Flow seem somehow greater, somehow deeper, and so, somehow more universal, the film maker has punctuated his story, scene after scene, with bold title cards, each reading the same exclamatory “Of Course!” In striving for gravity, though, Brewer has achieved something else, something much more conventional.
Gettin' his God on...
As a result, Hustle and Flow, for better and for worse, is one of the most earnest movies about a pimp in recent history. His name is DJay (Terrence Howard) and his game seems pretty pitiful from the get-go. He’s a small time drug dealer and while purporting to understand mankind’s great ambitions, still can’t get out of that same old pimpin’ rut. He’s got three ladies: one is home pregnant; another, portrayed as unpleasant and ungrateful, works out of strip club; and the third, Nola, is a small white hick who works out of DJay’s car, picks up drive-by clients, and serves as DJay’s unwitting muse and sounding board.
Now cue the music. First a coming together of circumstances: DJay hears that a local guy who made it big and went platinum as a rap star, Skinny Black (Ludacris), is returning home in a few weeks; DJay gets his hands on a cheap Casio electronic keyboard (his memories of making music as a high schooler back in the day come rushing back), and DJay runs into an old high school friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), who is an amateur sound engineer producer. Perfect. Now the rest unfolds from there exactly as you imagine it would. DJay comes to the realization that what he really wants to do with his life is be a star, tell his story through music, and keep it live. DJay and his friend set forth on producing a rap demo, aiming to complete it by the time Skinny Black finds his way back to Memphis.
Hot Buttered Soul
Hustle and Flow has a gritty and natural look. It seems whole: dark shadows, sharp edges and all. DJay’s haunts are grungy, ghetto, and raw. Other bold moments (not to mention the title card and a brief cameo by Isaac Hayes) harken back to 70s Blaxploitation films. Brewer often reveals brief cleverness and subtlety amidst his own relatively weak material, transcending an otherwise unoriginal work. In other words, when it comes to triumph-of-the-human-spirit potential, Hustle and Flow could have been a grand knockout like Rocky, but instead gallops lazily past the post like a bland Seabiscuit (but with hookers, of course).
There is a day of reckoning, that big climax, the key meeting of Skinny Black and DJay. There’s been such a build-up to this point that it is inevitable: things will not go perfectly for our guy and expectations will not be met. For those of us watching though, expectations are met… and met, and met, and met—again and again Hustle and Flow telegraphs the essence of each three-to-five minute scene in its first five-to-ten seconds. And so, if we know what’s going to happen, there’s little about which to get excited. It becomes easier instead, to just go with the flow.
By: Rob Lott
Published on: 2005-08-03