March 8, 2007

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Black Snake Moan (R)
Samuel L. Jackson pours on the badass extra thick plus he gets to sing the (decently performed) blues while Christina Ricci writhes around half-naked and chained to a radiator in Black Snake Moan, a movie, that, what do you think, might be a little bit exploitative? Just a little?

Lazarus (Jackson) is angrier than a wet cat with its paw caught in a Dan Rather metaphor. His wife (dun da na na dun) has left him for his brother (dun da da da dun) left him all alone (dun da na na dun). Sheís told him she donít love him no more (insert wail of guitar) and ainít goiní to hang around waiting to die (bring it home, BB).

Lazarus hangs around drinkiní, mowing up his ex-wifeís roses and sulking. When he goes out, he doesnít play the blues for which heís famous but darkens the bar stool and scares off women with a scowl.

Meanwhile, over on the trashier side of town, dark-root-blonde Rae (Ricci) is saying a whiny-sad goodbye to Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, turning in a better-than-music-video performance), the Iraq-headed, anxiety-prone soldier who she reluctantly admits is her True Love. He leaves and she starts to get the itch, a sort of anxiety fit that causes shakes and wriggles, flashbacks at bad behavior (hers and othersí to her) and an insatiable need for, er, it.

The absence of Ronnie causes this particularly itch to come on extra strong and she puts in a night extra of partying to try to, uhm, scratch. This also causes her to eventually pass out, leaving her at the mercies of Ronnieís best friend, though perhaps that is more of a sarcastic title than a literal one. Somewhere in the middle of assaulting her, he beats her up and pushes her out of his car, leaving her for dead on some dirt road.

Of course, itís not just any dirt road; itís the dirt road near Lazarusí house. When he goes outside the next morning he sees the half-dressed, half-dead Rae and brings her in his house. He tends to her fever (her actual fever, not the metaphoric one) and her wounds and after three days she wakes up feeling better. Better except that when she stands to leave, she finds that she has a chain wrapped around her waist and itís locked on to a radiator. Which is when Lazarus informs her that he plans to cure her of her wicked ways.

Rae, of course, isnít really wicked ó sheís merely slutty (she walks though town wearing a short rebel flag-bearing T-shirt thatís really more of a bra and a pair of even shorter Daisy Dukes that would make Jessica Simpson blush) and a victim of much abuse at the hands of an assortment of men. And Lazarus, despite his imprisoning activities, isnít really a psychopath ó he just needs to let go of some anger and find the love of a good woman, so says the movie. That these two people manifest their various hurts in the most extreme ways possible is just part of the drunken silliness of this movie.

Craig Brewster, who also wrote and directed Hustle & Flow, has here a movie just as cartoony and uneven but without any of the complexity that helped Hustle & Flow rise above some of its more half-baked moments. Heís none the less served up a movie just as rich with, well, strangeness in every scene.

Black Snake Moan, from its pulp novel movie poster to its icehouse blues soundtrack, is a deep fried, extra crispy, hot and spicy lump of greasy nonsense. That wonít stop you from eating it up, of course, and licking your fingers when youíre done. These performances are too overheated to be taken seriously and too big and sweaty not to pay attention to. Everything about Lazarusí and Raeís surroundings is as stagy and fake as if we were riding the ďAngry SouthĒ ride at Paramountís Plotland Theme park. And yet itís not a ride I was desperate to stop. C+

Rated R for strong sexual content, language, some violence, drug use and because Christina Ricci is chained to a radiator in her underwear. Written and directed by Craig Brewer, Black Snake Moan is an hour and 55 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Vantage