Pootie Tang aka Sine Your Pitty on the Runny Kine! 2001
Something that I started in the first year of this site and revisited just last year was to “celebrate” Black History Month in what little way that I could by reviewing films that featured Black superheroes. I covered most of them during the first year of this site including pretty much all of the good ones. It wasn’t until last year when I decided to revisit this idea with Abar: The First Black Superman as well as a couple episodes of Filmwhys where I could cover some Black cinema outside of the realm of superheroes. This year I found a couple more Black movies to watch and I decided to start with this film which is pretty far from your typical superhero movie. But it does seem to follow the typical origin story pretty closely with a few tweaks here and there. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few moments of completely absurd humor, the jokes didn’t connect with my sense of humor and without that I was left shaking my head more often than shaking my gut.
Before getting too much into the plot, however basic it might be, it is worth noting how this film had quite a few problems before it ever hit the big screen. It was written and directed by Louis C.K. who at the time had just come off of a run writing for the Chris Rock show. But once the film was finished, he was left out of the creative process and the film was edited by someone else. It was also given a voice over narration to hold the audience’s hand so they would know what’s going on. It is understandable in some ways, this film is bizarre on so many different levels. The main character is named Pootie Tang, over half of his dialogue is complete gibberish that everyone else in the movie world seems to understand, and the way the film is cut makes it difficult to grab onto a single tone for the film. During the first ten minutes, it starts with an interview discussing the film as essentially a film-within-a-film, starts with a clip that feels like a Blacksploitation version of a Batman ’66 episode, cuts to a 90’s hip-hop music video before getting to the introductory narration for Pootie Tang’s backstory.
It’s always difficult to examine a comedy based on its humor since that is often extremely subjective, and the humor of this film rarely connected with me. There were a few moments of absolutely bizarre humor that did get a huge laugh out of me. For example, one part of Pootie Tang’s character is that he is surprisingly chaste for someone who is a movie star, rock star, crime fighter, and all around good guy. And yet women constantly fawn all over him, including one woman who follows him to his hotel room and yells for him outside his door until the door cracks open and you just see his hand place a bowl of milk on the floor for her. Another is closer to the end that felt very reminiscent of a Mel Brooks gag where Pootie Tang and Dirty Dee are facing off against each other and as the camera cuts back and forth between the two of them staring at each other standing still, each cut reveals that they are closer and closer to each other until they end up on the wrong side of each other. Unfortunately, much of the humor undercuts or stretches out the gag way too long. One running gag is one of Pootie’s sidekicks that is teamed up with Chris Rock who will go on and on with a hyperbole joke which is capped off by the other guy stating the most basic version of the hyperbole, like “yeah it’s hot outside”. The only variation is that eventually Chris Rock’s character gets more and more annoyed with him. There’s also a gag where Pootie Tang’s friend is essentially narrating what he’s about to say, then he repeats the line verbatim. It’s funny for a while but the scene goes on for at least four lines too long. There’s also the level of meta humor that pokes a little bit too much fun at the movie itself that feels more along the lines of insulting the movie’s comedy rather than playing along with it, like how the interview ends by mentioning that it was the longest movie clip ever, and in the middle of the film he talks with Wanda Sykes’ character Biggie Shorty who asks the interviewer if he’s even been watching the movie.
What is great about this film is the cast, it’s filled with a lot of great comedians from the time in small roles. Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger, David Cross, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Coolidge, and of course Chris Rock playing three different roles. And even though Rock is playing three roles, it’s odd because there’s not a distinct effort to distinguish the characters from each other. As Pootie Tang’s dad, he just has a little gray in his hair, and as the DJ, he’s wearing sunglasses, but aside from that all three characters sound and feel exactly like Chris Rock. As for Pootie Tang himself, Lance Crouther was one of the writers on the Chris Rock show along with Louis C.K. and was the one who originated the role in shorts back then even though he hasn’t gone on to do much of any acting afterwards. Crouther handles himself well enough in the role, he exudes enough cool to be somewhat believable as this 70’s styled sensation while delivering this gibberish that Pootie Tang speaks with an ease that really helps sell the character.
As far as the overall plot goes, there are plenty of parallels to the typical superhero origin story. There’s the mythological importance of his belt, given to him by his father on his deathbed. And is has the power to whoop anyone’s ass as long as he has right on his side. He also has a weakness to “ho’s” in the form of pseudo-dominatrix Jennifer Coolidge who seduces him and steals his belt. He then goes on a redemptive quest to find himself, which just so happens to be on a random farm where he almost marries the sheriff’s daughter and has a vision of his father as a stalk of corn in yet another absolutely bizarre scene. He’s even being antagonized by Robert Vaughn as the head of this evil corporation who has a henchman named Dirty Dee who lives up to his name in an over the top fashion. Dee’s cars are filthy, he and his henchmen are covered head to toe in dirt, and the worst thing about prison for him is being forced to shower. And when he finally finds himself, he realizes that he didn’t need the belt all along. There are some interesting, unique, and completely bizarre ideas in this film, but it’s so difficult to get a handle on after it’s been chopped to death. While watching this film I would alternate between laughing, scratching my head, and rolling my eyes. I can see why this is a cult film, but I’d much rather just watch the scenes I enjoyed on their own rather than having to sit through this entire film again. I’d be curious to see what Louis C.K. could do with a director’s cut, but I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.