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“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” — A Giddily Irresponsible Action Comedy

Here’s what Patrick Hughes’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard has going for it: It’s exactly the movie it promises to be, but more so. It’s wilder, more hilarious, more giddily irresponsible — it’s the hard R action comedy that kids sneaking into it might imagine it’s going to be, minus Seventies- and Eighties-style nudity. At any moment, another chase or gunfight or burst of ludicrous violence might break out, in the streets of London or the canals of Amsterdam, all peppered with the inventive swearing of Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds and, in an extended cameo, a spectacularly filthy-mouthed Salma Hayek. One of those vicious close-quarters brawls that destroys a restaurant kitchen (chucked cast-iron skillets, faces seared on the grill) gets immediately followed by an even madder one wrecking a hardware store (axes, nail guns). Romantic flashbacks to a Mexico City dive play, intentionally, like the scene in Airplane! where Robert Hays’s character meets Julie Hagerty’s — as they lose themselves in each other’s eyes, bar brawls rage like the dancing flakes in a snow globe.

It’s all relentless in that never-stop never-stopping way, where the first big battle could have been the climax of a movie fifteen years ago. At times, the continual cut-cut/shoot-shoot — verbs that apply to both the filmmaking and the on-screen killing — shakes entirely free from the concerns of storytelling. We’re forever caught in sequences rather than a narrative, and when each extended set piece finally ends, some character gets tasked with reminding us that, oh yes, there’s a plot going on that we’re meant to recall and care about. Imagine if the old Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen musicals tossed out all those shortish story-tied song numbers and instead did those grand finale splendorous ballets every eight minutes. And also that those ballets each left behind dozens of corpses that nobody ever even blinks at, and that often one shot cuts to another so quickly that you catch only the sense of motion rather than the specifics of it. (The one-on-one kitchen/hardware store fights featuring Reynolds are composed of clearer, longer takes, and occasionally the vehicular mayhem offers images of startling clarity: a motorcycle chasing SUVs chasing a boat, all in the same shot.)

Any honest review of this film will flirt with tautology: If you like this sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing you’ll like. If you’ve ever left an action film wondering, “How many killings can a mind regard in two hours before something human within it collapses?” well, you may still find some amusement here when you’re not feeling numbed. It helps immeasurably that it’s Jackson and Reynolds doing the shooting/driving/running/buddy-comedy bickering. The plot concerns Jackson’s character, the hit man of the title, being called upon to testify at the Hague in the trial of a war criminal (Gary Oldman). Due to the logic of screenplays, he has to get there from London in something like 27 hours or the war criminal walks free. (The International Criminal Court doesn’t know about Skype?)

Of course, paramilitary squads have assembled to prevent this testimony, and Reynolds’s character — a primly fastidious high-end bodyguard — gets roped into making sure the hit man makes his appointment. The two men detest each other, of course, and in the brief respites from the violence bicker, philosophize, and — in my favorite moment — sing songs chosen to annoy each other. Somehow, as the bullets fly, Jackson’s character teaches Reynolds lessons about the nature of love; one of the film’s true pleasures is watching Jackson as a jolly murderer rather than a grim one. The script, by Tom O’Connor, never quite makes these killers into convincing people as Shane Black might have, and director Hughes’s excesses (fat jokes, fart jokes, cartoon sound effects) occasionally head-shots the goodwill that the stars generate. But both actors talk fast and funny, each scoring lots of on-brand laughs, with Reynolds in his polite, profane motormouth mode (disappointed at a car wash, he asks a worker, “Are you washing the car with old assholes?”).

Crucially, the filmmakers honor the solemn responsibility that comes with casting Jackson in an R-rated goof of a film: the crafting of memorably daft badassery for him to thunder. Here are lines I’m thankful I’ve lived long enough to hear him say: “It’s mighty motherfucking white of you.” “Don’t even think about answering that fucking phone!” “I am harm’s way.” “There’s a plethora of motherfuckers!”

The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Lionsgate Films
Opens August 18

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The Gory Revenge Saga Kite Is Grim and Stylish

Based on a 1998 anime of the same name, Kite is a gory revenge saga that takes place in a future so bleak it gags under its own layers of decay. Child sex slavery is the cornerstone of the black market, and desperate, ineffectual cops collude with teenage vigilantes to play judge, jury, and executioner against underworld kingpins.

After she’s poured into skin-tight dresses and five-inch heels, Sawa (India Eisley) — a waifish, tortured, drug-addicted assassin — eviscerates scores of henchmen with whatever’s handy: a handgun loaded with hollow-point exploding bullets, a butcher’s cleaver, or her porcelain-white, doll-like hands. The gallons of blood-red corn syrup that get streaked across Eisley’s cherubic face could supply Coney Island with cotton candy for decades. Her mentor (and drug supplier) is Detective Kyle Acker, played with bored resignation by an underused Samuel L. Jackson.

The film’s neo-noir, anime roots are clear. Everything is a shade of smog except for the copious arterial spray and Sawa’s candy-pink wig. It’s grim, stylish, and sets the perfect mood, but isn’t what’s ultimately memorable.

There’s a vague feeling that director Ralph Ziman intended for Sawa to be an empowering female figure. While she does hold her own in a variety of tightly constructed action sequences, her adventures often occur while she’s clad in nothing but underwear. Lingering, low-angle shots of her jogging up staircases in schoolgirl skirts or prowling the streets in bodycon obfuscate attempts to make her more than a fantasy object. In a film that pits the heroine directly against the sexualization of young women, the camera’s gaze itself feels awfully exploitative.

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The Tall Man

Maybe the biggest implausibility of director Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man is the idea that dozens of missing Caucasian children in a community would fail to attract the attention of federal law enforcement or that one loathsome garbage monster on CNN. But once you get through the flaming, Bowser’s Castle–like gauntlet of the rest of the story’s implausibilities, you end up in a different movie than the one on the creepy poster. Jessica Biel is a small-town nurse; her husband, a doctor, has died, making her the town’s only medical provider. Laugier creates an ominous atmosphere, situating the rusting skeleton of a community amid the foreboding majesty of tree-covered mountains. Residents whisper rumors of the black-clad “Tall Man” spiriting children away. When Biel’s child is stolen, she pursues the kidnapper and enlists the help of a police lieutenant Stephen McHattie plays with stony grimness. Which is basically as much as it’s fair to reveal, because then the plot makes some reversals; plays some sleeve-concealed aces, jokers, and Hoyle pinochle instruction cards; and just when you’ve exchanged your assumptions, the film goes all, “JK LOL,” and requests you accept a way more boring third set of assumptions. Which, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, pretty much makes an “ass” out of “u” and “mption.”

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The Samaritan

‘Nothing changes unless you make it change,” intones recently paroled grifter Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) in The Samaritan, a repeated mantra not subscribed to by David Weaver’s by-the-books criminal redemption saga. Released after 25 years behind bars for killing his partner during a con gone awry, Foley quickly finds the old life hard to escape—particularly because his murdered best friend’s son, Ethan (Luke Kirby), is determined to blackmail Foley into participating in an $8 million swindle that involves entrapping Foley in a romantic relationship with young drug addict Iris (Ruth Negga). Weaver’s panoramas of glittering nighttime skyscrapers contribute to a mood of ominous melancholy, and Jackson is surprisingly low-key, evoking Foley’s guilt, despair, and fear of repeating past mistakes with minimal quiet-LOUD histrionics. A hilarious mid-narrative bombshell lends just enough B-movie tawdriness to the film’s otherwise rote scenario, and a scene-chewing Tom Wilkinson, as a nefarious bigwig in league with Ethan, brings similar, if too brief, cheesiness to the action. As it crawls toward its climactic scam, however, Weaver’s story slowly begins to buckle under the weight of its own self-seriousness and familiarity, concluding with a showdown and resolution marked by one implausible and unsatisfying been-here-done-that twist after another.

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STEEP THOUGHTS

Katori Hall’s two-hander is set hours before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. In a Memphis hotel room, King (Samuel L. Jackson) shares his last night on Earth with a chambermaid (Angela Bassett) working her first night on the job. But does she have more on her mind than a turn down?

Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 22. Continues through Jan. 22, 2011

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The Mountaintop: No Dream Here

The real question about The Mountaintop (Jacobs Theatre), Katori Hall’s fantasy on the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, is what function it serves. America hardly needs another reminder of Dr. King himself: A national holiday and a new monument celebrate him; his name is constantly invoked in every imaginable political context. Nor could you call The Mountaintop much of a reminder: It shows the revered civil rights leader (Samuel L. Jackson), at the Memphis motel where he was shortly to be assassinated, engaging in a one-on-one evening of horseplay, seduction, and bickering with a supernaturally sassy hotel maid (Angela Bassett).

Hall’s play touches, albeit driftingly, on a wide range of matters we associate with King, from his devoutness and his passionate quest for justice to his fallibility, his weariness, and his painfully well-documented adulteries. But the encounter, skipping almost capriciously from one topic to the next, never links its materials into a sustained portrait. Jackson, an actor of solidity, warmth, and skill, has to summon all his resources to patch the disparate moments together; his performance sometimes conveys hints of a desperation that has nothing to do with the character’s growing awareness of his imminent death.

The eagerness with which Hall displays King’s lapses from ministerial virtue (boozing, cussing, bitching about his supporters, coming on to pretty girls) hardly serves to critique the sacrosanct figure. (Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Good Negro, at the Public Theater two seasons ago, faced that challenge both more effectively and more astutely.) Chiefly, the sight of a half-rowdy Dr. King flirtatiously bumming cigarettes off the maid or leaping into a pillow fight with her, seems intended as slapstick fun to keep the yokels amused in a time-honored tradition of cornball showbiz. Director Kenny Leon allows Bassett’s heavily italicized rendering of these bits to push this side of the script way farther than it needs—or deserves—to go.

But in addition to throwing the play’s trajectory off-kilter, Bassett’s overstated clowning brings back the question of what the play thinks it’s doing. The idea that a heroic minister has feet of clay could be comic; the reactions men have when confronted with news of their impending death often are. But trying to juxtapose what King stood for and what he means historically, flaws and all, with a good-time Broadway par-tayy seems pointless and duly proves unviable.

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Barack Obama is Golden, Rush Limbaugh is Screwed — Predictions for the Year of the Tiger!

By Fatimah Surjani Ortega

Yes, Tiger, this could be your year
Yes, Tiger, this could be your year

Sunday ushers in the Year of Metal Tiger, which sounds like a golf club. That’s actually appropriate, because things look auspicious for Tiger Woods — as long as he can keep his dick in his pants.

Just in time for Chinese New Year, the Voice offers up this celebrity-centered translation of what’s in store for all you furry animals. We’re basing it on the teachings of none other than the Feng Shui Grand Master himself, Singapore-born Tan Khoon Yong.

Let’s start at the beginning, with those of you born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008): Your advice for 2010? Pray hard, and pray often.

Governor, you're screwed
Governor, you’re screwed

You have a rough road ahead. Being a rodent, you tend to run and hide from big things. That’s not the game plan for this year. You need to find some courage and bluff your way through this year’s maze. Only through sheer self-confidence, and, well, assholery are you going to find your way to the cheese. Be brave, be a jerk, stay supremely self-assured, and you won’t end up some pussycat’s lunch. If people bitch and moan about you, put on earphones and turn up the volume.
In for a bumpy ride: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

Year of the Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)

The future is bright, Barry
The future is bright, Barry

Barack Obama, an Ox, won the presidency in the Year of the Rat, which was a very lucky year for him. He took office in his own year, 2009’s Year of the Ox, which sounds just perfect, doesn’t it? Actually, it predicted disaster: when you meet your own year, Tan Khoon Yong tells us, you challenge the Grand Duke Jupiter God, and although we aren’t really sure what that means, it sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, that’s all over with now, and the GOP can really start sweating. Tiger and Ox get along just fine, and Obama should have a monster year. For all you Oxen out there, just keep this in mind: Don’t mix work with pleasure. You tend to work too hard, you lose focus, and your health suffers. Find time to chill. And men, treat your wives well and keep your eyes off the cute cows at the office.
Ready for a bull market: Susan Boyle, George Clooney, Mos Def, Heidi Klum, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan

Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998)

It's not Rush's year
It’s not Rush’s year

Sorry, Tigers, but you’re fucked. The Feng Shui masters say you’ll be offering up a challenge to Tai Sui, the Grand Duke Jupiter, or God of the Year, and with every freaking thing you do, you’ll have to watch your back. This is not a year to take chances, and if things aren’t going your way you’re going to feel like crap. All the time. But don’t lose hope entirely. This is a year to count on yourself, because you won’t find help from others. Create your own opportunities through careful, logical planning, and count on your imagination for ideas. Be cautious and wise, and you can give Grand Duke Jupiter — and everyone else — the finger.
Who’s in deep shit: Tom Cruise, Jenna Jameson, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanchez

Year of the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999)

Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!
Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!

The lovable hare. Your charm makes you popular, and you feel good, but you might be looking for trouble. The new year should start with a plan to fix some lingering problems. Why? Hare men tend to cheat. And when you’re both rabbits — we’re looking at you, Brangelina — well, the tabloids may be in for a banner year. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Tiger Woods is a randy rabbit, but if he’s really determined to change his ways, this year is on his side. Rabbits, stop trying to charm the rest of the world and use your powers instead to improve things at home and at work. And get some sun. Vitamin D can be the difference between a gloomy or glorious year.
Who needs some beach time: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods

Year of the Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000)

Keep the change, Fiddy
Keep the change, Fiddy

You self-obsessed lizard, you thought everyone was having a shitty 2009. Well, there has been a recession on, but things were tougher on you than others. And you aren’t getting a break any time soon. Yes, it’s another tough year for the dragons, and watch out for unpleasant surprises, all related to your usual shortcomings (you know what they are). But fuck it, don’t listen to this prediction. You did survive the worst recession in a generation, and if you did that, you’ll be fine. Cheer up, Smaug.
Keep your wings tucked and your head down: 50 Cent, Courtney Cox, Bret Easton Ellis, Courtney Love, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon

Year of the Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001)

John, you ignorant slut
John, you ignorant slut

Things look good for snakes, but don’t get pleased with yourself just yet. Serpents tend to celebrate success with sexual adventure, and some of you will be determined to turn this into the Year of the Slut. Down, boy! Try to redirect that energy into your career or something, because giving in to your impulses is not a good idea this year.
Who’s champing to whore around: Mike Bloomberg, Tina Brown, John Edwards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey

Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)

Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!
Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!

Healthy as a horse? Tell that to Barbaro. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of year, Seabiscuit, and you better watch it. Trouble is looking for you, and it’s your health that’s likely to suffer. Avoid disputes, particularly anything involving documents that have your name on them, and gallop away from a deal that isn’t guaranteed. That said, a modest investment in real estate might be wise, and whatever you do, donate some charity or at least some blood while your health still holds.
Constitutionally challenged: Halle Berry, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, Gov. David Paterson, Kristen Stewart

Year of the Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)

Everyone loves you, Steve
Everyone loves you, Steve

So long, bad luck, here comes good fortune. If Steve Jobs knew what was good for him, he’d have delayed introducing the iPad until after Chinese New Year (and given it a better name!). At least he’ll have a good chance to gain some weight this year. Goats are in luck: other people will favor them this year, and they’ll find assistance from places they didn’t expect it. But Billy, don’t be a show off. Play things right, and you’ll gain back more than you lost last year.
Not scapegoats this year: Anderson Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Musto, Liev Schreiber

Year of the Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)

Jen knows from bad luck
Jen knows from bad luck

Monkey, your cycle of good luck has run out. Like the Tigers, you’re also offending the grand god of the year, and 2010 looks like twelve months of suckage. But monkeys often find ways to outsmart their misfortunes — except that they’re also accident prone. So figure things out with that nimble and creative mind, but don’t take risks or you’re likely to slip on a banana peel.
In the jungle this year: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig, Salma Hayek, Jason Schwartzman, Will Smith

Year of the Cock (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)

Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!
Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!

We know, we know, it’s always the year of the cock, at least in the Village. But this year, seriously, you roosters have much to crow about. The stars have all aligned, and you need to make your big moves RIGHT NOW. Andrew Cuomo? Nothing can stop you, certainly not the likes of David Paterson and Rick Lazio. The feng shui masters say that this is the year for cocks to lay the foundation for a brighter future (and yes, they really do talk like that, so stop giggling). Don’t mess up this opportunity. Be smart, but be bold.
Who wins: Beyonce, Gerard Butler, Andrew Cuomo, Jay-Z, Spike Lee, Taylor Momsen, Gwen Stefani, Tila Tequila

Year of the Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)

These dogs won't hunt
These dogs won’t hunt

Sorry, puppies, you’re in the doghouse this year. Not only is your luck poor, other people are going to shit on you all year long (and not pick up after themselves!). But look, there’s only one way to deal with it: Don’t complain, don’t whimper, take your losses in stride, and stay out of other people’s business. Don’t drive yourself insane waiting for your luck to turn. There’s an end to this, and it’s just twelve months away. Until then, just take it like a mindless, happy puppy.
Bad dog, no biscuit: George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Joseph Fiennes, Queen Latifah, Anna Paquin

Year of the Boar (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)

No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment
No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment

Boars have had it tough. Hard work didn’t pay off for political pigs Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton in 2008. Last year, 2009, was also supposed to be a lousy one for porkers, but somehow David Letterman watched it happen to the other guys. For the rest of you pigs, 2010 might just be your year. Shrug off the uncertainty and make this a year you take a chance. Sure, others think you’ve been beaten — but now is the time to surprise them with your resilience. Spitzer wants to run again? Do it, man, and not just in your socks.
Who gets a break: Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Nicky Hilton, Mila Kunis, David Letterman, Ewan McGregor, Eliot Spitzer

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Bernie Mac’s At His Best in Soul Men

In Soul Men, actor-comedian Bernie Mac, who passed away in August, plays Floyd Henderson, a present-day car-wash mogul who, back in the 1970s, was an r&b backup singer alongside a fellow named Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson). One day, their frontman, Marcus Hooks (John Legend), took off on his own, becoming a funk-soul god, leaving Floyd and Louis to part as bitter enemies. Twenty years later, Floyd bursts into Louis’s fleabag L.A. apartment with a plan for the two men to drive to New York and perform at a tribute show for Marcus, whose sudden death hasn’t exactly wrecked his former band mates. “I’m cryin’ the tears of a motherfuckin’ clown,” Louis declares, and kicks Floyd out. But soon enough, the two are headed cross-country in an El Dorado convertible, bickering, getting stranded, and eventually staging their old act in dive bars. While their singing voices are ragged, the old-school hand gestures and side-shuffle footwork is mighty fine. The film dulls out in the home stretch as screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone employ increasingly silly side turns to delay Floyd and Louis’s arrival in New York. It could be said, too, that the visual style of director Malcolm Lee (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) rarely matches the energy of his performers, but no matter: Mac and Jackson carry the show—particularly Mac, who’s at his crackly, cranky best here. As swan songs go, Soul Men is pretty sweet.

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Resurrecting the Champ

Director Rod Lurie can always find the overwrought in the mundane; his filmography (The Last Castle,
The Contender, Deterrence) is stocked with bombastic movies in which a timpani’s deafening rumble accompanies every sideways glance. He’s at it again with this story of Erik (Josh Hartnett), a newspaperman who doesn’t do quite enough research about a would-be former boxing champ (Samuel L. Jackson) now living on the street. Erik’s celebrated piece ruins him—sort of, not really, who cares? Here’s what
Resurrecting the Champ gets right: the dull grind of reporting and researching and writing, and the dull thud caused by a mistake made during that wearying process—a mistake made totally by accident and easily fixable with a retraction. This isn’t great raw material, though Lurie and his screenwriters try their best to portray Erik as some guilt-ridden evildoer who’s perpetrated a great fraud. Ace in the Hole this ain’t; Sweet Smell of Success neither.

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Hussy ‘N’ Flow

It may be hard out there for a pimp, but it ain’t too hard for a writer-director to make a movie whose marketing hinges on the lurid spectacle of Samuel L. Jackson pulling a half-naked Christina Ricci around on a chain. This sort of cheap trick is what they used to call exploitation—or, more to the point, blaxploitation; despite the sounds of them, neither term is derogatory, at least not toward the movies. Ex- and blax- formulas are merely the short cuts that underprivileged properties take to getting themselves funded and promoted and seen: Put a (black) man pulling a half-naked (white) woman around on a chain in your pitch/poster/trailer and, particularly if your last feature was the pimpin’-ain’t-easy Oscar-winner
Hustle & Flow, you got a deal. Matter of fact, you might also have a masterpiece, since such a great movie can, in theory, be made from any subject—including that of a smooth-rappin’ pimp who gets his house in order and his hos, too.

Alas, theory ain’t shit when the final cut is due, and, just as Flow-maker Craig Brewer ain’t Melvin Van Peebles (or John Waters or Russ Meyer or Larry Cohen or Katt Shea Ruben), Black Snake Moan sho-nuff ain’t no Sweetback. Indeed, long stretches of Brewer’s Suthun-fried sophomore slump come down the country road lookin’ as haggard as a workaholic ho on a Sunday morning. (Yes, this review is a piece of exploitation, too.) As in Flow, Brewer only allows himself so much nasty fun before it’s time to issue his trick-turners their hard-earned redemption: Jackson’s chain-yankin’ Lazarus learns to temper his righteous indignation; Ricci’s Rae, she of the belly-baring Confederate flag-tee and unclean panties, puts on some decent clothes and even reckons she might get hitched; the filmmaker begins to direct his grindhouse fantasy of female enslavement as if it were Our Town.

At least Brewer knows well the first rule of exploitation, which is that if the premise don’t fit on a condom wrapper or a piece of rolling paper, it ain’t a movie. This one could fit on one of Rae’s sorely needed cough drops: Cruelly cuckolded middle-aged Tennessee farmer and part-time bluesman goes to take out the garbage, finds a piece of white trash left for dead in a ditch, takes her in, and then sets about stripping the scantily clad young nymph of her evil ways. L’il ball ‘n’ chain disciplinin’ never hurt any slut, even one who’s got a wicked fever and been beaten bloody. Lazarus actually turns out to be a real gentleman, drawin’ baths and singin’ lullabies and such, although Brewer can’t resist taking advantage of Rae in her weakened condition by giving her rape nightmares, which are made to look just a smidge like pay-cable porn, the camera sliding down the poor nymph’s leg while she tosses and turns. Unconscious, this girl’s still gotta have it.

As even Esquire‘s hot and bothered critic couldn’t fail to notice, Brewer is upstanding enough to pay for his sins. Beginning with a bang—Justin Timberlake’s soon-to-ship-out National Guardsman bumpin’ and grindin’ atop his half-loyal girlfriend Rae—Black Snake Moan finds God around the bend, with Jackson’s perverse holy man once again drawing his pulp fiction straight outta the good book. For Lazarus (or Brewer), scrubbing this bad girl’s soul means not subjecting her to slavery so much as getting her to work in the kitchen, to sing “This Little Light of Mine” (no kidding), to appreciate a talking blues sermon about the hellfire horrors of abortion. Lord willing, our hero can break this wild mare: Call him the Ho Whisperer.

Second rule of exploitation: For God’s sake, don’t be boring. Alas, after his camera has had its fill of ogling Rae, Brewer turns out to have nothing up his sleeve, nothing in his pants, only a little on his mind and none of it, amazingly, to do with race. Whatever provocation helps sell the movie—including Timberlake’s knee-jerk turn as a panic-attacked grunt—doesn’t give Black Snake Moan the slightest hint of substance, which is maybe the real reason it got the green light. Both times I saw the film (like Rae, I’m a glutton for punishment), male buddies in the theater turned to one another with knowing smirks—like, Holy moly, now ain’t this one a l’il vixen? Maybe these guys had lost their . . . uh, full attention by the time Brewer contrives to get Rae all gussied up and ready to shake her thing down the aisle. But by then, I might reckon the good ol’ boys got what they came for.