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Hustle & Flow

Starring Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, DJ Qualls, Isaac Hayes and Ludacris
Written and Directed by Craig Brewer
website: www.hustleandflow.com

Middle aged white guy Cranky, alumnus of fifteen years in rock and roll radio, cannot tell you how excited he was to sit for a story of a pimp and his ho's turned would be rapper (and his ho's). Which was not at all. When it was all done, with one exception of note, there is only one thing to say beyond the fact that we hate 99% of all that is rap. So here goes. . .

IN SHORT: Best of the Year (so far). [Rated R. 110 minutes]

That being written, IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WITH FOUR LETTER WORDS BE WARNED that they fly fast and furious and will probably force you out of the theater. That's a shame because, excepting the obscenities, Hustle & Flow is deeper than most film we see on a regular basis. It is easily as interesting, in story and characters likable and unlikable. It even has built into it a rap song which rocker Cranky couldn't get out of his head -- maybe it's that opening line "You know it's hard out here for a pimp, when he's trying to get the money for the rent." -- which is about as brilliant an oxymoron as you can get.

Set in Memphis, home base to Elvis Presley and Isaac Hayes and the smokin' Memphis Horn Section to name just a few, Hustle & Flow is the story of an aging pimp called DJay (Terrence Howard) who decides to seek the "easier money" as a rapper. His inspiration comes in the form of a Fourth of July 'return in glory' for Memphis born rap superstar Skinny Black (Ludacris), who will host a private party at Arlen's Bar (run by Isaac Hayes), and a chance meeting with old friend, now sound engineer, Clyde aka Key (Anthony Anderson). That "hard out here" bit is due to the fact that, of his stable, Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) has split for the better money and more sanitary conditions of a local topless bar and Shug (Taraji P. Henson) is visibly pregnant with his kid. That leaves relative newbie Nola (Taryn Manning) to carry the load, so to speak. The pair work out of DJay's car. Nola takes a lot of rides with strangers. In between off screen unpleasantness, there's a lot of character revealed in their bored discussions which leads to one of the Third Act twists we can't reveal.

First thing DJay discovers is that recording equipment costs a lot of money. Covered, as you can guess. Second, studios cost another fortune. Covered, with his girls booted out of the back room of his house. Third, there's this white guy called Shelby (DJ Qualls) who Key brings in 'cuz he's got a keyboard sequencer. When push comes to shove, DJay can't carry the vocal load alone and how that is solved is left to the film script. What they turn out, while not as appropriate for radio as they want, is a unable tune which manages things it shouldn't. We used to work in radio. We don't thinks things have changed that much in the last decade, though in real life the radio stations would have gotten a special edit. We'll give the Hustle & Flow scenario a break and make the assumption.

At its core, Hustle and Flow is an incredibly intelligent film that gets props for the fact that none of the characters are played to stereotype. Not DJay. Not Nola. Not even Key's strait-laced, disapproving wife Yevette (Elise Neal). Why it works is that, once you get past the four letter words (which took us half an hour, easy), there is more story here than in anything we've seen so far this year. The performances rock and the story does not go where we expected it to go, into A Star Is Born territory. That gives nothing away even though we've strayed into revealing what goes down in the Third Act. Where the film goes is, with 20-20 hindsight, as dead on accurate as you can get in the rap world. And, no, that doesn't mean anyone necessarily gets killed, either, even as most of the male characters are packin'. We're much to cynical to give props to a film that goes that route.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hustle and Flow, he would have paid . . .

$7.50

or, since we got real tired of it, Eight Bucks less half a dollar penalty for the burn in our sensitive ears. <g>

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