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It's a Groaner

Black Snake Moan makes a tramp's redemption boring.

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Samuel L. Jackson slums it with Christina Ricci
  • Samuel L. Jackson slums it with Christina Ricci
It may be hard out there for a pimp, but it ain't that hard 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 their common root, neither term is derogatory -- at least not toward the movies. Ex- and blax- formulas are merely the shortcuts that underprivileged properties take to get themselves funded, promoted, and seen: Put a (black) man dragging a half-naked (white) woman on a chain in your poster, and -- particularly if your last feature was the pimpin'-ain't-easy Oscar-winner Hustle & Flow -- you got a deal.

Alas, theory ain't shit when the final cut is due, and, as Flow-maker Craig Brewer ain't Melvin Van Peebles, Black Snake Moan sho-nuff ain't no Sweetback. Indeed, Brewer's southern-fried sophomore slump comes down the country road lookin' as haggard as a workaholic ho on a Sunday morning. 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 -- and the filmmaker turns his grindhouse fantasy of female enslavement into Our Town.

At least Brewer knows the first rule of exploitation: If the premise don't fit on a condom wrapper or a rolling paper, it ain't a movie. This premise could fit on one of Rae's sorely needed cough drops: Cruelly cuckolded middle-aged Tennessee farmer and part-time bluesman takes out the garbage, finds a piece of white trash left for dead in a ditch, takes her in, and decides to strip the scantily clad young nymph of her evil ways. A little 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, drawing baths and singing lullabies -- although Brewer can't resist giving Rae rape nightmares, which are made to look just a smidge like pay-TV porn. 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 girlfriend Rae -- Black Snake Moan finds God around the bend, when Jackson's perverse holy man once again draws his pulp fiction straight outta the good book. For Lazarus (or Brewer), scrubbing this bad girl's soul amounts to getting her to work in the kitchen and appreciate a talking-blues sermon about the hellfire horrors of abortion.

Unfortunately, Brewer hasn't learned the second rule of exploitation: For God's sake, don't be boring. After his camera has had its fill of ogling Rae, Brewer turns out to have nothing up his sleeve, nothing in his pants, and only a little on his mind.

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