During their heyday in the late '60s/early '70s, Marcus Hooks (John Legend) and the Real Deal -- Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac) and Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) -- were R&B icons. But as with most legendary acts, acrimony led to a split-up and solo work. Hooks was a smash. The Real Deal had one hit, and then faded into obscurity. When death takes the famed frontman away from the world, VH1 decides to hold a tribute concert, and the Deal's former manager (Sean Hayes) is selected to secure their participation. Unfortunately, Henderson is living in an upscale retirement community, while Hinds is trying to put his life back together after a stint in prison. Refusing the offer at first, they finally embark on a five-day cross-country road trip. Playing pick-up dates along the way, they hope to make it to New York's Apollo before the final curtain falls.
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That's exciting enough, but Carpenter also calculates in a ticking time bomb narrative device. Air Force One is hijacked by some socialist radicals who crash-land the plane into the heart of "this inhuman dungeon of [an] imperialist prison." The President (Donald Pleasence) manages to escape in a safety pod, only to be captured by none other than the leader of a ferocious band of gypsies who control the island, the self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).
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South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut certainly makes up for it, taking the comic adventures of four boys in the "redneck town" of South Park, Colorado to new highs, er, lows, in their feature debut.
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Just as Wattstax the event was a serious social event that just so happened to include a little music, Wattstax the movie is much less a concert film (a la Woodstock or The Last Waltz) and much more a talking head documentary with musical interludes. Depending on your frame of mind, that can be a good or a bad thing. But director Mel Stuart (who made Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory two years earlier) is probably not the perfect person to take a camera into Los Angeles to ask black residents how things have changed (or not) since the riots seven years earlier. There's frankly just not a lot of insight to be gained from the poorly shot man-on-the-street footage.
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There's not a lot of setup for why this film is made -- though the half-assed reunion concert that concludes the brisk film comes off as even sillier than the one in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. In the beginning, our narrators state simply that they wonder what happened to pioneering soul singers like Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, Jerry Butler, and The Chi-Lites. Turns out there's not a lot of mystery to it; they're still alive and kicking, and judging from the footage in the film, they're doing a lot of radio appearances. The exception is Isaac Hayes, who would go on to renewed fame by voicing the role of "Chef" on the South Park TV show -- and in fact it's Hayes that gets more screen time here than any of his compatriots.
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Until recently, Howard has been one of American film's mostly unnoticed gems. A journeyman actor since the early '90s, he came into his own in Malcolm Lee's romantic comedy The Best Man, in which he served as the sleepy-eyed provocateur, wisely watching all the fools who surrounded him, goading them into fury by slyly undercutting their fantasies with his keenly observed truths. It was one of that year's great performances, but being mired in such a conventional work (not to mention being in a black film aimed at black audiences, and thus mostly invisible to the critical establishment), he never received his due. He's worked steadily since then, coming into his own with this year's Crash - turning in an open wound of a performance that stood out even in that film's excellent ensemble. In Hustle & Flow, he's found a role that puts him in the spotlight, and he grabs the role tight with both hands, though never so showily as to make you notice how hard he's really working.
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"Dr. Dolittle 2" is one of those comedy sequels slapped together by a lazy screenwriter who thinks as long he's scattered a significant number of good laughs here and there, the clumsy carelessness of the mechanical and pandering plot should be forgiven.
It is consistently funny and occasionally downright hilarious, thanks entirely to its ample supply of wisecracking critters. But the story needs a lame voice-over as a crutch to get from Point A to Point B (sample: "...and so the big day finally came...") and the plot lurches forward on a gimmick and a prayer. Director Steve Carr ("Next Friday") seems to assume his young target audience isn't bright enough to notice such things and that their parents will excuse him with the mantra "it's just a kid's movie."
The gimmicky plot concerns Dr. Dolittle (Eddie Murphy reprising his 1998 role), the San Francisco physician who can talk to the animals, trying to get two endangered-species bears to mate because their proliferation will legally block a fiendish lumber company from clear-cutting their Northern California forest home. (The gimmick also serves as a heavy-handed, politically correct sermon, seemingly obligatory in half-baked kiddie flicks.)
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