Boyz N the Studio

Hustle & Flow is short on action, long on scenes of recording.

DJay runs his mouth way more than he does his ho's.
DJay runs his mouth way more than he does his ho's.
MTV Films made a wise purchase in picking up Hustle & Flow at Sundance: The soundtrack is killer. Rapping over music composed by Three 6 Mafia and Al Kapone, star Terrence Howard has the skills. The rest of the songs heard onscreen, most of which fall into the uniquely southern hip-hop subgenre of crunk, are also kickin'. If you can walk out of the theater having sat still through all the beats, you are in need of some serious caffeination.

But good soundtrack doesn't always equal good movie -- if it did, Prince's Graffiti Bridge would have been a huge success. MTV will get great mileage out of the inevitable videos -- they do still show music videos occasionally, late at night, don't they? -- but what of the actual story?

Imagine a two-hour documentary about the recording of your favorite rap album, let's say Dr. Dre's The Chronic. Sounds good, right? Now subtract Dre, replacing him with someone you've never heard of -- someone who doesn't even exist in the real world. Imagine how that "rapumentary" would play at a similar length, but with utterly unfamiliar material. To approximate such an effect without paying to see a movie, watch the "making of" extra on any DVD you own, but with the sound turned down. Scintillating? Not quite.

So yeah, that movie you've been seeing all the ads for that make Hustle & Flow look like the latest installment of Grand Theft Auto . . . spends most of its 114 minutes focusing on the making of a demo tape. People in a studio, rapping and recording. If you're going to watch that, wouldn't you rather it actually be Dre, or Lil Jon, or whoever, rather than actors pretending to be their kind? Yes, Ludacris and Isaac Hayes are in it, but not much, and they don't perform.

The damnedest thing about it is that the characters seem interesting. They just don't really do anything interesting until about 15 minutes before the end credits roll. In the beginning, we're introduced to DJay (Howard), a small-time Memphis pimp, and his hos: bitchy Lexus (Paula Jai Parker), pregnant Shug (Taraji P. Henson), and Nola (Taryn Manning), the token white girl, who seems to be the best at hooking. Pimping, as many songs have noted, ain't easy, and DJay dreams bigger. When he happens to run into Clyde, an old acquaintance also known as "Key" (Anthony Anderson), and finds out that his long-lost pal is a sound engineer, the two decide to put together some tunes, with the help of a producer (DJ Qualls) whose day job is stocking vending machines.

Once the tape is done, DJay is determined to get it to Skinny Black (Ludacris), a local-boy-gone-Hollywood, and it's at that point, finally, that some dramatic tension enters the tale. Fifteen minutes later, the movie's over. Damn. Some smarter pacing could have helped matters.