Hustle & Flow, one of Sundance’s big winners this year, starts out with a Tarantino-like speech by DJay (Terrence Howard), a Memphis pimp, drug dealer, and general lowlife who tries to buck up Nola (Taryn Manning) one of his hos.
He then stops by his favorite bar to chat with Arnel (Isaac Hayes) the owner and a good friend. Arnel informs him that Skinny Black (Ludacris), a superstar rapper originally from Memphis, is coming back in town for a 4th of July shin dig at the establishment. DJay, who claims to be old friends with the guy, says he’ll hook him up with his best pot.
Later while making the rounds with Nola, Djay runs into Key (Anthony Anderson). Key records gospel music and depositions – hardly the life he wanted either. The two of them realizing they’re at a crossroads and aren’t getting any younger decide they want to make an album. DJay is convinced that if it’s any good he can give it to Skinny Black who will go to bat for them. Key enlists the help of Shelby (D.J. Qualls) a nerdy white boy who surprisingly throws down good sound.
Their studio has all the creativity that having no money inspires. The team soundproofs their workplace with empty egg cartons. It’s the summer and the house is cooking but they must turn off the fans when the microphones are live. The sweat dripping off their faces makes the music more raw and real. DJay also bribes his neighbors to turn their own music down, because it occasionally bleeds thru into the studio.
Their main song is “Whoop That Trick,” where DJay complains about pimping. A sweet scene occurs when Shelby gets Sugar (Taraji P. Henson), a pregnant hooker to sing backup. DJay and Sugar begin to fall in love as the group sees gold at the end of the rainbow and an end to their dead end lives.
This kind of story has been done before with films like The Commitments, or even October Sky. The theme of chasing your dreams and never give up on them works so well because everyone has one. Even pimps and drug dealers get mid life crisis’s. The film has a surprising amount of heart for such shady characters.
Despite this I think the genre has seen better entries. The film also has a radical tone shift in the final 15 minutes that I thought was misplaced. Still, Writer/Director Craig Brewer shows plenty of promise. I’m very curious as to what he shows us next time out
** 1/2 out of ****