Pootie Tang
directed by Louis CK
(Paramount, 2001)

For once in my life, I wish I were Gene Shalit. I could nod my bushy-haired head, twitch my moustache, wiggle my bow tie and proclaim, "Pootie Tang is pootie-licious!"

Just two problems: I never, never want to wiggle a bow tie. And Pootie Tang is most definitely not pootie-licious.

Oh, I wanted to love this movie. It has Chris Rock all over the place, as Pootie's father, as JB and as a radio DJ. It has Lance Crouther as Pootie Tang, pulling from a sketch he's done on Rocks' cable show. It has Wanda Sykes, also from Rocks' show, reprising her Biggie Shorty character, and it has Jennifer Coolidge, whom I've loved in movies like Best in Show and American Pie (she was Stifler's mom).

But I have to admit, I never quite made it to the end of Pootie Tang's tale.

It's not the characters' fault so much as it is the movie itself. Some low-budget efforts are charming and inventive, more than making up for technical flash with some innovation or an extraordinary story. But here, Crouther and Rock are solely depending on the humor of characters who can carry a three-minute sketch to carry a 90-minute movie. And they're not up to even the lightest of lifting.

Besides having one of the best names ever (according to my sense of humor, anyway), Pootie doesn't have much else.

Here's his premise: He's a ghetto superhero, a crime fighter, who speaks in incomprehensible gibberish. The ladies love Pootie, and Pootie loves them. He's also a role model for kids -- he encourages them to eat right and say no to smoking.

This doesn't sit well with Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn -- yes, the Robert Vaughn), whose conglomerate makes whiskey and cigarettes and hamburgers and all that stuff that you know you shouldn't want, but you do anyway. Pootie Tang's popularity is cutting into Lecter's profits. So he sends out his woman, Ireenie (Coolidge), to steal Pootie's source of power: his magical belt, given to him by his daddy when he was on his deathbed.

Oh, if only Pootie had listened to his daddy's last words: "Pootie, never let a woman get between you and your belt."

How ever will Pootie get back his belt and his evil-fighting powers?

The first 20 minutes with Pootie are great: The gibberish gimmick is wonderful, and the scenes with young Pootie at the dinner table (dressed like the grown-up Pootie, complete with rabbit-fur vest) are lunacy. So are Pootie's sidekicks. The death of Pootie's father is inspired craziness, as is the bit with Pootie in a recording studio, cutting what turns out to be a wildly popular song.

But that all happens in the first 15 minutes. Tack on the cameo by Missy Elliott, and you're at about 30 minutes.

And at that point, you can turn it off. You've seen just about all Pootie has to offer.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 25 October 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.