A review of “Hustle & Flow” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, sexuality and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

 

 

A strident but effective vibe pervades every frame of this gritty and contemporary rags-to-riches fable.

Outsized dreams haunt the daily existence of cooler-than-thou Memphis hustler DJay (Terrence Howard) who wields a vicious attitude while tending to a fiery stable of women of the night.  Deep in his troubled soul DJay knows he was meant to contribute by means of a powerful artistic voice screaming to be heard.

Call it the Saturday Night Fever of rap.  A wrong-side-of-the-tracks Rocky.  DJay’s gonna be a contender as he scrabbles his way to his lofty goal of respectable musician, determined to bypass the pain of poverty and the inevitable sting of rejection.

Hustle’s central flaw is its anti-sympathy card; grandiose dreams aside it’s difficult to drum up the appropriate empathy for a guy who sells women’s bodies for fifty bucks a crack. 

Spare narrative is thin on originality but the performances raise this coarse drama to unexpected heights, in particular that of the smoldering and underrated Howard (Crash) who is long overdue for his own close-up.

Smaller roles are equally refreshing – Anthony Andrews’ bumbling producer, Taraji P. Henson as DJay’s emotionally oppressed lady love and Ludacris as local-boy-made-bling and the focus of DJay’s burgeoning obsession.

A stark street savvy jockeys for screen time with an overwhelming aura of futility and funk.  Rendering writer/director Craig Brewer’s ambitious low-budgeter undeniably watchable.