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Pootie Tang

Who out there derives pleasure from five-minute TV comedy sketches turned into feature-length movies? When did this become such an "in-demand" product? Perhaps never — but such hasn't stopped Hollywood from turning anorexic premises into films. Perhaps the success (and relative quality) of Wayne's World is to blame, as nearly every year a new sketch-to-film comes out (in 1998 there was A Night at the Roxbury, 1999 brought Superstar, and 2000 delivered The Ladies Man). Pootie Tang fulfilled 2001's yearly quotient, but surprisingly it didn't emerge from the SNL factory (perhaps the movies on Mango or the annoying music teachers aren't ready yet), instead born of Chris Rock's HBO show. Pootie Tang (Lance Crouther) is a popular singing artist who speaks in street gibberish, with such catch phrases as "Whatdatah" and "Sepatown." As such, the filmed version of the skit offers Mr. Tang's biography, and it takes the story to a new level by giving Pootie a magical belt that helps him fight crime. Pootie loves his community and is viewed a role model, even though no one can understand what he's saying, but Corporate America — headed by Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn) — wants to co-opt his image to sell cigarettes and booze. And when Pootie's best friend Trucky (J.B. Smoove) tells Lecter's lady Ireenie (Jennifer Coolidge) where Pootie's power comes from, Pootie gets shanghaied and unintentionally signs away his image — and his belt. He then must realize his special powers come not from a belt, but from the inside. Pootie Tang appears to have been made from hijacked beer-run money, though it does feature Chris Rock and many of his friends and associates (actually much of the cast was also in the Rock vehicle Down to Earth), and the low budget makes it much more likable as the malnourished stepchild of its genre. Because the film draws inspiration from the Blaxploitation movement, and most specifically from Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore, there are some funny bits (the first ten minutes are especially amusing), but the narrative doesn't hang together and the film has a hard time filling out its scant 81-minute running time (with 11 minutes of credits). Still, it quietly ranks as a better sketch-to-film than It's Pat!. Paramount's DVD release of the Tang is in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with audio in DD 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Extras are limited to the trailer and a music video called "Pootie Tang-in'" by 702. Keep-case.

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