[Screen It]

"POOTIE TANG"
(2001) (Lance Crouther, JB Smoove) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: An odd but beloved crime-fighting, singing star, who speaks a language all his own, battles an evil corporate CEO and other villains.
PLOT:
Pootie Tang (LANCE CROUTHER) is an odd Renaissance man - with a unique language all his own -- who's just as proficient at crime fighting as he is in making movies, albums and public service announcements that warn children against the consuming of products from Corporate America.

While that makes him a hero among the everyday folk, it also means he's public enemy number one to both petty criminals - such as Dirty Dee (REG E. CATHEY) who revels in being as filthy as possible - and corporate CEOs such as Dick Lecter (ROBERT VAUGHN) who's upset with how Pootie is affecting sales of his various products.

Accordingly, Lecter orders his right-hand man, Frank (DAVID ATTEL), to get Pootie to sign an exclusive contract hawking their latest endeavor, and when that fails, he sends Ireenie (JENNIFER COOLIDGE) to use her feminine wiles & sexuality to discover Pootie's secret source of power. That turns out to be the belt that his father (CHRIS ROCK) gave him as a boy and that he uses like a whip on the various villains he encounters.

As he goes about his successful ways and hangs out with his friends including Trucky (JB SMOOVE) and JB (CHRIS ROCK) and deals with Biggie Shorty (WANDA SYKES), a woman who may or may not be a prostitute but does dance around on the street corners dressed like one and desperately wants to get him in bed, Pootie must contend with Lecter's underhanded ways. They not only end up putting him in odd situations, such as being coerced into getting to know Stacy (CATHY TRIEN), a farm girl whose sheriff father is intent on marrying her off to the next available man, but also present the crime fighter with the greatest challenges he's had to face yet.

OUR TAKE: 0 out of 10
While most animals can communicate - in one way or another - with members of their own species, it's humans' abilities to do so with one another that's allowed for civilizations to develop and flourish. Whether through speech, sign language, writing or whatever means, it's important for people to be able to communicate their thoughts, emotions and feelings to others.

Of course, various artists do that through the medium of their choice, such as musicians who do it with their lyrics and musical arrangements, even if some like Bob Dylan and James Brown are often a bit hard to understand.

Another way to communicate is through movies where a filmmaker can express his or her voice to millions of people through the use of story and character. Back in the early days of film, however, you couldn't understand characters although you could see their lips moving. Obviously, that was because films were silent back then, but at least such films had title cards that would pop up with the preceding dialogue.

When talkies appeared, much of that communicative problem vanished, although some characters - such as the Frankenstein ones and those played by Harpo Marx -- still remained silent or mostly so. As the years passed, such silent characters became even more rare, replaced by a few such as Chewbacca and R2D2 who used a unique language of their own. While other characters in those "Star Wars" films could understand them, viewers couldn't decipher what they were saying. Nevertheless, the inflection of their "voices" certainly gave us a strong hint of their message.

Yet, none of those characters were the headliners of films and for good reason. It's hard for viewers to get to know, like or identify with a character that can't be understood, and such cinematic creations would thus have a hard time carrying or at least guiding a film through its narrative course.

Either taking a "damn the torpedoes" approach or simply being too dumb and/or ignorant of that fact, those responsible for the making and release of "Pootie Tang" have opted to buck that trend in a film that's so bad it's clearly in the running for worst of the year.

Based on a character and skit that appeared on HBO's "The Chris Rock Show," the titular persona is a movie creation that's nearly impossible to describe, although one could say he's a jive-talking singer and movie star who dabbles in crime fighting. His popularity only makes sense in the alter-universe the filmmakers have created, and he speaks a language that everyone in the movie can understand, but no viewer will be able to crack.

That's apparently supposed to be the film's central running gag, but, like everything else writer/director Louis C.K. (co-writer of "Down to Earth") throws out, it wears out its welcome long before it's inevitably but predictably run into the ground. His new "words" don't mean anything to us, and the delivery of them isn't particularly funny. Like the worst big screen adaptations of "Saturday Night Live" skits, the film tries to expand upon such a skit-based idea and turn it into a "feature length" picture, but fails miserably.

The result is a spectacular train wreck of a film where the participants seem oblivious to the dreck they've crafted and performed in, as if they were too busy laughing and patting each other on the back about how clever they were being to realize that they obviously weren't.

While I can accept dumb movies with idiotic stories and dumb, bizarre and/or abnormal characters - as long as they're presented and played with some intelligence and/or creativity behind them - this film's succession of loosely connected vignettes and lame and decidedly unfunny characters is grating when not jaw-dropping bad.

An unsuccessful attempt at being a parody of 1970s "blaxploitation" and kung fu films as mixed and/or filtered through the elements - many of them being of the psychedelic variety - from the "Austin Powers" films, the picture is amazing in its inability to be witty or clever, let alone funny or hilarious.

While one can easily identify and appreciate the attempts at parody - the super cool black dude who uses his belt like a martial arts weapon, the street corner hooker, the woman throwing a guy's belongings to the street from her window, and the lower class pimp/criminal who's so dingy and dirty he makes Pigpen from the Peanuts' cartoons seem like Mr. Clean, etc. - they simply aren't funny (especially when shown in sped up footage) and that rapidly becomes painfully obvious after the first few attempts.

The films' jabs at corporate America are just as lame and don't match what occurred in the comparatively brilliant "Josie and the Pussycats," while the whole retro hero character bit isn't even in the same league as what Mike Myers and company did with the charming and fabulously crafted Austin Powers character.

Not surprisingly, the performances - stemming from one-dimensional characters at best - are just as awful as the writing and direction. Lance Crouther ("Class Act," "Fear of a Black Hat") brings absolutely nothing to the role, crafting a one-note character that could barely sustain a skit, let alone a movie.

Jennifer Coolidge ("Best in Show," "American Pie") is wasted in what amounts to nothing more than a corporate slut character, JB Smoove (various TV shows and comedy specials) brings nothing to his best friend character, and Reg E. Cathey ("American Psycho," "Seven") and Wanda Sykes ("Down to Earth," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps") are far more annoying and/or lame than funny.

Even Chris Rock ("Down to Earth," "Nurse Betty") can't save the proceedings playing three supporting characters. The "I've Stooped So Low I Now Need a Back Brace" award of the year, however, goes to Robert Vaughn ("The Towering Inferno," TV's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") who inexplicably appears as the evil corporate CEO and doesn't come close to the Dr. Evil character from the "Austin Powers" films.

Near the beginning of this cinematic debacle, the narrator quotes Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" stating, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Well, at least he was half right, with about the only good thing about the film being that it's mercifully short at less than 80 minutes or so in length. If not for "Freddy Got Fingered" this would easily be the worst film of the year, but that's really just splitting hairs since this film also rates as a 0 out of 10.




Reviewed June 29, 2001 / Posted June 30, 2001


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