The advertising and opening titles of Black Snake Moan suggest a throwback to 1970s exploitation movies. That retro marketing hook defies this laidback Southern drama, which isn't necessarily morally sound but is always unapologetically sincere. Craig Brewer's follow-up to Hustle and Flow carries an indiscreet polemic righteousness.
As blues musician Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) kidnaps promiscuous girl Rae (Christina Ricci), the film settles into one character enforcing morality upon his hostage. Chained from her waist, Rae's situation, having immediately cheated on her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) once he left for Iraq, will infuriate some with its unwillingness to dogmatically subscribe to a right- or left-wing political view.
Brewer's treatment of women, already evidenced in Hustle and Flow, needs work. Lazurus' chastising of Rae's libido is followed by a moment where he toasts a local teenager for losing his virginity. But the collision of ideals is also where Black Snake Moan shines as an earnest statement on the value of the cultural melting pot. Brewer based Hustle and Flow on the essence of Atlanta-based hip-hop. Black Snake Moan is modelled on the blues. Rae discovers herself through Lazurus's music and teachings—just as black kids and white kids have been adopting one another's culture for years.
Brewer views Rae's racial indoctrination as healthy—learning to understand others, she newly understands herself. In this context, Timberlake's casting is interesting. The various sex fantasies of his FutureSex/LoveSounds make that album a descendent of Prince's 1986 record Parade. But it's Jackson, departing from his short-tempered sociopath routine, who gives this flawed movie its soul.
The Astronaut Farmer/The Number 23
Virginia Madsen does double duty in The Astronaut Farmer and The Number 23, playing the stabilizing wives to obsessive men. The Astronaut Farmer is the better of the films, if only because it laces its lead's neurosis with ambition.
Placing everything into his dream of flying the rocket he built into space, filmmakers Michael and Mark Polish don't face that family man Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) is recklessly arrogant. It earns emotion because Farmer's arguments with the FAA and his own wife appeal to basic hopes of liberty—belief that dreaming doesn't have to end with adulthood. The Polish brothers hit enough right notes that lazy missteps are easily dismissed.
The Number 23 needs you to know it's fascinating, not by accomplishing or evoking much, but by repeatedly stating its worth. Joel Schumacher's mystery/thriller takes intrigue as its topic. The path to obsession begins as Walter Sparrow's (Jim Carrey) wife (Madsen) hands him a book about the number 23. Walter becomes obsessed with its permutations. Schumacher goes just as insane. Viewers will mostly shrug. Covert 23s appear all over the movie, but it's preoccupied with collecting clues to a vague, potentially non-existant menace. Carrey also appears as the equally obsessed detective of the book's narrative, for which Schumacher creates a noir style on the verge of camp.
Schumacher tapped into this disturbing vogue with more success with 8MM. Working without a menace as concrete as snuff films in The Number 23, there's nothing to fear. Without realizing a threat, the two hours of numerical agonizing is as trivial as it sounds.
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