Friday, July 04, 2008

Honeydripper: Grade D


Honeydripper (2007)

Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Clark, Jr., Stacy Keach, Mary Steenburger, Keb’Mo’; Writer-Director John Sayles.

With all this talent, it is hard to explain why this movie is so bad. It’s a black movie about a slice of black history. Sayles is white, but I don’t believe that old fallacy that you can’t understand someone’s struggle if you aren’t a member of their clan. Movies are supposed to illuminate the human condition, but this one doesn’t.

Glover owns a dumpy road house in rural Alabama in the 1950’s, but he is on the verge of bankruptcy. His last hope before eviction is to pack the place by bringing in a regional star, “Guitar Sam,” but Sam doesn’t show up. Instead, a drifter with a homemade electric guitar (Clark) takes the stage and all ends well.

The problem is that it takes two hours of “What we gonna do” hand-wringing for Clark to play, and then he plays about 60 seconds of hot electric blues before he and his pickup band lapse into featureless rock and roll while all the young people jump like they’re on American Bandstand. 1950 is almost a decade too early for rock n roll to be supplanting blues in Alabama, but we can let that go. Even more frustrating is that throughout the movie, Glover encounters a blind dobro player around town who absolutely rivets your attention every time he plays a couple of notes. It is Keb’ Mo’, the well-known blues artist with a Robert Johnson legacy. I was yelling at the screen, “Danny, it’s Keb’Mo’ for God’s sake! Put him on your stage!” But he didn’t hear me. There was a suggestion that slide guitar was “too common” to pass for entertainment, even though he had already acquiesced to Guitar Sam. So the movie plods on for another 90 minutes with its stereotyped characters, wooden acting, aimless story, stilted script, and incongruously bright-and-shiny sets. Everybody wears the same (spotless) clothes for a week and there are numerous anachronisms in props and dialog. What saves the movie from utter failure are the all-too-brief snippets of fine blues music, and the noble, if failed, attempt to portray an important piece of black history.

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