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Black Snake Moan

For its unwittingly clichéd story and South'n-fried stereotypes, Black Snake Moan could itself benefit from a cool-down timeout on the radiator. Four-star soundtrack, though!


Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is large, black and God-fearing; Rae (Christina Ricci) is petite, white and sin-committing. In other words, you know they're bound to meet up at some point. After Rae's boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), is ordered to boot camp, she cuts loose—or merely reverts to old habits—consuming all the drugs, booze and men she can get her hands on. It doesn't take long for her to spiral out of control and wind up beaten—by Ronnie's best friend (Michael Raymond-James)—and abandoned on the side of the road, where Lazarus scoops her up and takes her in. Just like that, antitheses are brought together, but Laz can't quite figure out what, aside from her bloodied face, is ailing her. See, she gets ''spells'' whose only antidote is intercourse, and Laz neither wants to be part of that cure nor let her out of his sight. His only solution: chain her up to the radiator like the rabid dog in heat she has become, and sing to her the blues he knows so well. It seems to be working when, uh-oh, Ronnie returns home, and needless to say, things have changed since he's been gone.


So…Samuel L. Jackson does occasionally take roles for more than just a paycheck! Maybe he does read the screenplays before accepting roles! Kidding, of course, but at least the Pulp Fiction star plays flesh and blood here instead of whatever you want to call his last dozen or so characters. When Jackson allows himself to be vulnerable, as he does in Snake, he reminds you of his thespian side from back in the 20th century. And in the film, when he moans the blues, he reminds you of bluesmen from back in the 20th century. Jackson shares a strong, if perverse, emotional connection with Ricci, who gives an absolutely fearless performance. Half-naked throughout and literally looking possessed by sex demons, Ricci takes a career risk with this role, one that most of her peers probably wouldn't consider even if their hearts told them otherwise—but courage aside, her acting tends to be over the top, even if fearless. And Timberlake, following up his recent, widely hailed performance in Alpha Dog, again looks the part but comes up short this time. He has a formidable acting future, but he's not enough of a natural to flip a drama switch whenever and wherever necessary, as is asked of him here in his few scenes.


Writer-director Craig Brewer has ambition of originality, but at this point it's more like delusion of originality. Snake officially marks his sophomore slump, after the hit Hustle and Flow, and it unfortunately makes you re-wonder how many flaws might lie hidden beneath Terrence Howard's powerhouse performance in that movie. There is a lot plaguing Brewer's story, and that doesn't include numerous questionable assertions about the South and its inhabitants. The biggest problems arise out of sheer conventionalism when the director seems so bent on shunning anything of the sort. The blemish that just screams out is Ricci's lack of clothing even after Jackson's character spends the whole movie trying to curb her sexual appetite and the way she is perceived. It's minute, but it reflects an overall lack of cohesion between the film's theme of morality and the filmmaker's lack thereof. But hey, it makes for a great poster and a nod to the male fans. And the radiator gimmick is just that: strip away Rae being chained up and there'd be no buzz factor, leaving the rather conventional (that word again) story exposed. But Brewer knows his music, and how to make it the center of a story; if he only did a better job filling in the rest of the blanks, this might've worked.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.