Undercover Brothers

In the new blaxploitation, agitprop gets smoked by infinite jest


Any hope for a resuscitation of the qualities that still make blaxploitation so stirring--a commitment to authenticity, a wild visual ingenuity on a shoestring budget, a refutation of the everything's okay ethos--comes in for a bludgeoning by the nadir of the post-blaxploitation B movie. Pootie Tang will be remembered as the Infinite Jest or Corrections of blaxploitation: a meta-meta-blaxploitation movie that's a joke on a joke on a joke. The movie exists on such far rings of irony-upon-irony that you may feel you're breathing the thin air of Saturn. The protagonist is Pootie Tang, a character who talks in a deliberately moronic, Buckwheat-like variation on the slang of the millisecond. Pootie's movie within the movie is called Sine Your Dabe on the Runny Kine; the gag of the film proper is that this nothing character is stuck in a mock-blaxploitation flick with requisite tough guys, requisite pimps, requisite squealing chicks, and the requisite white Dr. Evil figure. Pootie Tang tries to pass itself off as retro in the ads, but it's really a gag on the flimsiness of Lorne Michaels's grotesquely attenuated Saturday Night Live flicks--an inept movie giggling at its ineptitude. The blaxploitation story elements--and even the looks of the characters--seem perfunctory now, the way every AM-radio hit from 1970 to 1979 has been sampled in something or other.

So: Does this creative black hole suggest an opportunity for rebirth? For reinvention of the genre with political subtexts and freewheeling story structures that are of the moment rather than quotations of past relics? For a new heyday of blaxploitation made by new artists eager to sink their teeth into something juicy and sociologically incorrect?

New blax swing: The B-movie boys of 'Pootie Tang'
Paramount Pictures
New blax swing: The B-movie boys of 'Pootie Tang'

Not while Chris Tucker is still lighting his cigars with hundred-dollar bills.

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