Sunday, March 04, 2007

Skank’s on a Chain: The Oddball Southern Tale “Black Snake Moan” is Surprisingly Watchable

I don’t even know what to say. The trailer for “Black Snake Moan” puzzled me way back in December. What appeared to be a film about a black man who “rehabilitates” a young promiscuous white woman in the Deep South looked like an odd movie going experience. And low and behold it is! This is certainly a B-movie if there ever was one. And I’ve decided that every movie that Samuel L. Jackson makes from now on should have “snake” somewhere in the title.

We open on some old black & white stock footage of a black blues guitarist unknown by me. Then we cut to Christina Ricci doin’ it with Justin Timberlake. Then we have Samuel L. Jackson in what appears to be a scene involving his ex-wife. What is going on? I have no idea. Quickly Ronnie (Timberlake) is going off to war and Rae (Ricci) is going to be left all by her lonesome. As Ronnie drives away, Rae (who gives Reese Witherspoon a run for her money in the Southern accent department) begins to thrive and wriggle in the grass in what appears to be an orgasm brought on by Ronnie’s car exhaust. After a night of being drugged up and wasted at a party she ends up right near Lazarus’ (Jackson) house. She’s beaten up and barely conscious and barely clothed for that matter.

Lazarus comes to the girl’s rescue. He runs down to the pharmacy for some medicine and makes it his goal to help this poor thing. Soon he discovers that she’s hornier than a rabbit in heat and before you know it Lazarus has chained up poor Rae to the radiator. He has decided to cure Rae of her wicked ways (read: stop being a slut). There are scenes of Ricci writhing around on the floor as if the Invisible Man is sexually assaulting her and it’s really hard to figure out what we’re supposed to do with all of this. I mean, it’s kind of funny and kind of not, but it’s always entertaining.

The film doesn’t exactly know what genre it is, but it always has a conscious idea that it’s a too silly to be taken seriously. There are outrageously funny parts including a young teen who stops by the house to deliver something and Rae promptly jumps him. Music also has a main role here although I would hardly called it a musical. There are scenes that take place in a steamy jazz club in which Lazarus is center stage and filled with secondary characters. This is a film that could have been Misery meets Pretty Woman but it’s not. And the film works best if you try not to label it as one type of genre.

The actors do good jobs in their roles especially Jackson and Ricci. I admire Ricci for taking a sexually provocative role that I’m sure many actresses certainly passed on. I’ve never found her to be an overly gifted actress (even in Monster she was one-note) but she finally gets a role she can shine in. Jackson is also well cast as the Southern musician who’s mission it is to cure Rae of her sins. And Timberlake does a fairly good job as Rae’s boyfriend, but it’s still hard to keep a straight face when his character breaks down into tears. I mean this is the guy who sings SexyBack for God’s sake.

This is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen and writer/director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) has certainly come up with one of the most original stories to come out in awhile. It’s a film not exactly recommended for everyone, but anyone curious enough to see what a film called “Black Snake Moan” could possibly be about should give it a try. GRADE: B+


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