Black Snake Moan

As he proved in 2005 — with his rap about how it's hard out here for a pimp. In Hustle & Flow — writer-director Craig Brewer doesn't just use music in film, he lets it breathe. It's raw Memphis blues, from Blind Lemon Jefferson to R.L. Burnside and Jessie Mae Hemphill, that informs Brewer's Black Snake Moan. But, oh lordy, when the music stops, this movie needs a respirator. Look, I'm not knocking Brewer — the dude has real talent for evoking atmosphere — and the eye-filling sight of a mostly naked Christina Ricci, playing Tennessee white trash with her own spin on "she's gotta have it," is unassailable. But this time Brewer substitutes provocationor substance. And that dog won't hunt. No sooner has Rae (Ricci) sent her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), off to the Army and Iraq, she's getting it on wither drug dealer, the football team and Ronnie's best friend — he's the jerk who rapes her and leaves her for dead on a dirt road.

Rae's awakening comes courtesy of — symbol alert — Lazarus, played by a graybeard Samuel L. Jackson. Lazarus, a former blues musician (Jackson sings, effectively), takes in this wild child, chains her to his radiator and gets fired up to cure her of her sex sickness. Offensive on multiple levels — if only the plot had any level st all — Black Snake Moan leaves no Tobacco Road cliche unsmoked. Ricci gives it her all, and then some, but even her body and Jackson's blues can't heal movie that rockets plum off its nut.

From The Archives Issue 116: August 31, 1972