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Hustle & Flow Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/24/2005

This has been a good year for Terrence Dashon Howard.  He was given kudos for his performance in this year’s Crash and ABC’s TV movie “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”  He has Four Brothers with Mark Wahlberg coming out in August and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ with rapper 50 Cent coming out in November.  The kudos will keep coming this month in Hustle & Flow, a winner at the Sundance Film Festival.

DJay (Howard) is a pimp and smalltime drug dealer in Memphis.  He has three hookers:  Nola (Taryn Manning), the white girl; Shug (Taraji P. Henson), who is out of commission at the moment, since she is pregnant; and Lex (Paula Jai Parker.)  He really has no desire to do these things, because his actual dream is to be a famous rapper.  The Memphis hip-hop scene, known as crunk, is very popular right now, and he wants to cash in…and the only way to do that is if he can make a demo and give it to the right people.  DJay hears from local bar owner Arnel (Isaac Hayes) that hometown rap star Skinny Black (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) will be stopping by his bar for a Fourth of July party.  DJay swears that he knows Skinny from back in the day when they went to separate high schools, so he thinks that he might be able to hook up with the rapper.  That good news is followed by more good news, when DJay runs into a former high school buddy of his named Key (Anthony Anderson) at a convenience store, who is now a middle-class recording engineer.  DJay asks Key if he will help him record a demo track, which Key is willing to do, but he isn’t sure that his wife Yvette (Elise Neal) will approve.  Key brings in church musician Shelby (DJ Qualls) to help with the beat and keyboards.  Even though he is white, Shelby understands crunk, and he is a talented musician (he also has no objection to smoking DJay’s weed.)  DJay has his own lyrics, but Key thinks that DJay needs a hook in order to get some radio airplay.  DJay has Shug sing the hook, and they record “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”  He also has Nola help him secure a new microphone from an electronics store in a way that she really doesn’t like.  Lex thinks that DJay is wasting his time with the rap thing, so he throws her and her son out of the house.  If he can get the demo to Skinny at the party, he might become a famous rapper and can make a better life for himself and his girls.

Howard shines in this role.  I thought he was great in Crash, but with such a large cast, he got lost in the shuffle.  Here he takes the lead, and his character is believable.  Memphis rapper Al Kapone wrote the lyrics (including the song that has appeared in all of the trailers, “Whoop That Trick,” which, despite its negative message, is a song that sticks in your head), but Howard did the performances himself…and he is a decent rapper.

Aside from Howard, others stood out here.  Anderson got to play another great dramatic role, following his excellent performance last season in FX’s “The Shield.”  Henson hasn’t done much before this movie, but this will be the movie that will get her bigger roles.  Manning was great in 2001’s Crazy/Beautiful and 2002’s 8 Mile, plus she had a small but memorable role in this year’s A Lot Like Love, so I hope that everyone will forget that she starred in the 2002 Britney Spears flop Crossroads.  Ludacris teamed up with Howard in Crash, and he was great in that.  Even though his role is smaller here, he is really building a resume as an actor (please don’t do a movie with Steven Seagal though.)

Hustle & Flow is writer/director Craig Brewer’s second movie (his first movie was 2000’s The Poor and Hungry, which I don’t think has ever been released commercially), and it was produced by filmmaker John Singleton, along with Stephanie Allain.  The ending is a little unbelievable, but Brewer has become a talented filmmaker himself.  He and Howard might be hustling some Oscar love come next year.

Get the soundtrack featuring songs by Webbie, E-40, Trillville, Boyz N da Hood, Al Kapone, and more:

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