the film certainly has some effective moments, but overall i think it fell short for me.
for the first 40 minutes of the film i was obsessed with trying to place the time during which it’s supposed to take place. there’s an old school (70s) title sequence, isaac hayes is introduced as a pivotal character, the main character seems strangely separated from hip-hop which indicated to me that it was something new, almost all the cars during the first 40 minutes are on the old side, at one point a television program in the background mentions carl lewis (which made me think it was the 80s), CDs exist, but howard is working strictly with cassette tapes….that said, there was also at least one suv during this time which seemed either a mistake or a hint that the film takes place in contemporary times. it wasn’t until one scene after the scene in which howard kicked out one of his whores (is “prostitute” better?) that we see a cell phone. and what made that scene odd was that a cell phone started ringing and everyone sort of stops what they’re doing and looks at each other as if they don’t know what’s going on. anthony anderson finally pulls his phone out of his pocket and answers. within seconds of doing this, howard pulls out his cell phone and just starts playing with it a bit on the opposite end of the screen. all this was very surreal to me because typically a pimp/drug dealer is attached to his cell phone(s) and pager(s). the drug dealers at my high school typically had two or three pagers and we don’t even see this guy’s until the film is almost half done. this aspect of the film really screwed with me. it’s either a major faux pas or a decision that is supposed to mirror howard’s evolution as a person. er, something.
i enjoyed the film’s sense of humor. anderson and qualls are both naturally funny and they offer a bit of comic relief, unfortunately they didn’t pull off the more serious scenes quite as well. anderson’s final scene wasn’t bad, but he certainly didn’t nail it. qualls doesn’t seem to have the range or presence that’s required for his (admittedly tough) role.
during the rap sequences i didn’t like the lip synching. howard did a fine job rapping when he was just warming up so i wish they had just stuck with his vocals for the scenes when he was laying down the tracks for his demo. as for the soundtrack…i prefer pre-millienial gangsta rap like n.w.a., dr. dre, and tupac to the new school southern-based stuff.
i was a bit disappointed by the fact that the most inspirational moment is accompanied by a refrain of “whoop that trick;” and that is the essence of what i disliked about this film. the reason i like urban films like menace II society, kids and boyz in tha hood is because i feel they have a authenticity in their depiction of the struggles of the streets, and a conscience in the way they present them. each of these films ends with a similar sentiment: “what the fuck happened?” and the implied question that should follow is: “what are we going to do about it?” i didn’t feel this film had that. it pulled its punches with regard to how gritty it was willing to get and it portrayed the pimp/dealer-turned-rapper as more hero than cautionary figure. at the same time he was in jail at the end of the film. that said, he was also a huge success and the guards doted over him when they discovered out that he was the man behind the most recent radio hit. his relationship with his whores and their relationship with him seemed to validate such an arrangement, rather than simply portray it. manning (the white whore) had one or two minor issues with her role as howard’s bitch, but other than that was more than willing to do his bidding…especially after he went to jail. i know that this is exactly the arrangement that many people have (so you could make the argument that the filmmakers are just being real), but i also think there’s something inherently demeaning about it, and that a film that almost glorifies it, should get a little flak as a result. that said, you could make a decent counter argument to this. she does get something out of this arrangement: food, clothes, shelter, feeling of security, etc. and, as far as pimps go, howard’s a pretty decent guy. plus, what the fuck do i know? i’ve never been a pimp and i’ve never talked with one. i’ve never been paid for sex and never been viewed strictly as a sex object, so how much can i really comment on these things?
the beginning was better than the end. it rang more true for me, it was more artistically shot, and it felt more raw. about the time the cell phones came out the film took a turn for the worse.