Whether or not you’ll get anything out of watching “Hustle & Flow” will depend less on your appreciation (or lack thereof) for hip-hop than it does on your willingness (or lack thereof) to entertain seriously the core mythology of the genre: That there exists within denizens of impoverished areas, especially those toiling away at illegal activities, the souls of poets just aching to tell the world “what it is” in the form of a rythymic dance track. If this is a notion you believe in, or at least can feign belief in enough to enjoy the genre when it works, you’ll likely find a lot to enjoy here. On the other hand, if you’ve got a tough time buying the “romanticism” of hoodlums setting self-aggrandizing inner monologues to repetitive Casio beats… you probably ought to see something else.
Myself, I fall somewhere in the middle on the whole thing. Objectively, it’s hard to deny that much of the mythic image of hip-hop is little more than shrewdly manufactured smoke and mirrors. But it certainly had a kind of genesis in something real, like all music, and when it works it works. Which is about what you can say for this movie.
Terrence Howard toplines as DJay, a low-level Memphis pimp and drug-dealer who rediscovers a yearning to be a rapper when he lucks into the posession of an old keyboard. It turns out he’s got real talent for lyrics and beats, and soon he’s lucking into other things like an old buddy (Anthony Anderson) who owns recording equipment and knows how to build a makeshift studio and the impending visit of a childhood aquaintance who’s grown up to be megastar rapper Skinny Black. Still more luck: A local church kid (scene-stealing DJ Qualls) is a whiz with a mixing board and DJay’s pregnant ‘ho reveals a great voice for singing hooks.
Yeah, It’s that kind of music movie. All the staples of the genre are there: Stapling egg cartons to the walls for soundproofing, miraculous scenes of “it all coming together,” recreational drug use, a lead character feverishly scribbling lyrics in a notepad, inside-ref-laden scenes about mics and studio mixing, the married character who’s wife doesn’t like him spending time at the studio, it all gets a workout. None the less, Filtered through a determinedly 70s-colored lens, bouyed by the authentic-looking Memphis surroundings and resting on the back of Howard’s inspired starmaking turn, the film frequently rises above the “how I got into the music biz” movie-pile and has moments of real energy and emotion. It’s characters are complex, culled from the genre stockpile or no, and yield surprises.
Thus, it’s a bit disheartening that the film suffers a bit come the third act, eventually collapsing into the overworn cliche’s of hip-hop movies (and videos) past. It’s at least agreeable that the characters don’t have to break their previous strides in order to arrive at the genre-mandated blowup of police, posses and screaming onlookers, but still a bit of a letdown on my end that the story couldn’t find a more original way of wrapping itself up.
Still, it’s a well-made film and a good star-turn. And unless the genre is a complete turnoff for you, I’d say it comes reccomended.
FINAL RATING: 7/10