Pootie Tang, Pootie TANG! I looooove Pootie Tang. I saw it in the theater [I did feel a little odd as the bourgeois white guy asking the African-American ticket seller for a ticket to Pootie Tang], loved it, and this is about the fourth time I’ve seen it now—and it just keeps getting funnier every time. It seems from the comments on the IMDb that you either love this movie or think it is the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen. I would add that two things that are probably going to help you love it are a familiarity with the conventions of blaxploitation films and a passing acquaintance with the cliches of male R&B music performance.
Okay! So we begin with Pootie being interviewed by Bob Costas, introducing a clip from his new movie. The entire movie IS the clip, causing Costas to observe, at the end, “Wow, that was the longest movie clip I’ve ever seen.” Already we’ve noticed that Pootie speaks in a special language of nonsense phrases like “Sa-da-tay!” and “Cappa-chou!” that don’t make sense, and yet throughout, you never really doubt what he means. This is, of course, a hyperbolized version of black jive talk, and it’s one of those things that’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but creeps up on you as this movie’s highly-developed sense of the ridiculous becomes overwhelming.
So the “movie clip” starts with a drug deal going down in the inner city. You have two rival factions, including Dirty Dee, who is literally covered in dirt. He wants to be sure that the drugs he’s buying are real, so they need to test them. Then suddenly the pure, innocent inner-city child on a bike [the one who is always getting tragically ruined by drugs in blaxploitation movies] comes along, and the music changes to a sort of doodley music box tune. The kid is in harm’s way when suddenly Pootie bursts on the scene. He does a hilarious little dance upon getting out of the car [around 3:45] that refers to the cinematic lionizing of blaxploitation heroes like Shaft. He dodges all the bullets shot at him, then whips everyone’s ass with his belt, which is his magical weapon. We then have the credits!
The credits are essentially a music video with the group 702, featuring Pootie doing his best Shaft-like stances, and interspersed with these crazy psychedelic titles and patterns. This song, by the way, is different than the single “Pootie Tangin’,” which I love, but where can I get THIS version? I don’t think it’s even on the soundtrack. Grrr—I want it! I ended up watching the credits several times before returning the movie, because it’s just so fun. I need to just haul off and buy this DVD.
We then have the history of Pootie, including the fact that he always drove women—even adult women—crazy. There’s then a hilarious sequence, one of the highlights of the movie, with this woman shouting out of a window “Get out of my life, Pootie! I can’t take it no more!” as she’s throwing out his stuffed animals to gather in a pile at his feet. The ten year old Pootie stands there with a sad, wise expression on his face, as we have a Curtis Mayfield-type blues song, and the camera slowly zooms toward him. I hadn’t even seen many blaxploitation movies when I first saw this, and even then I got the cliché and found it hilarious. The woman finally breaks down and wails “Pootie! Pootie, don’t go!”
There is then a little history on how Pootie’s father would whip him with his belt at the slightest infraction, including when he’s not even around for miles. Then Pootie’s mother dies and soon after, his father, who bequeaths the belt to Pootie and warns him never to let the ladies come between him and the belt. Hmmm, I wonder what Pootie’s big test of character in the movie will be?
We see that Pootie is a huge star, and makes PSA’s telling kids not to do drugs, smoke, drink or eat fast food. This has sent sales down at Lectercorp, which sells all that stuff, and they decide that they need to bring Pootie down. The second-in-command is played by Dave Attell, and it’s nice to see him in a role, as opposed to himself on Insomniac. We are also introduced to Wanda Sykes as Biggie Shorty, dressed in these crazy skimpy animal prints, an orange wig, and dancing crazily to music as she stands on the corner. That really does seem to be her main activity.
Now three highlights in close succession. First Pootie goes into the studio to record a single, and, not feeling it, brings all the levels down to silence. He then goes into the studio and does a hilarious silent pantomime of an impassioned R&B music performance, finally collapsing in exhaustion, while all we hear is silence. We next hear the song going out on the radio, where it is still silence, but everyone who is into Pootie hears it and is soon grooving along. It an ingenious joke that Pootie has literally recorded his very coolness, and everyone who is on the vibe hears it.
Then he pulls up to a club and joins Missy Elliott on stage for a duet, where he does another hilarious pantomime of an R&B performance, this time by singing his nonsense words. This one is a sort of Marvin Gaye / Teddy Pendergrass kind of performance—you know, any male R&B performer who sort of acts like he is in physical pain while singing—and to hear Pootie emphatically declare “I’ma clina pooster!” and have the crowd go insane… well, I guess it depends on how many R&B concerts you’ve been to. And hilarious setpiece number three? Pootie leaves the stage and gets into an elevator, and a female fan has snuck in with him. She is delirious with lust, grabbing Pootie, rubbing all over him and she screams and wails and cries. You really just have to see it. This continues down a hallway, still hilarious, until Pootie abruptly vanishes into his room, leaving her outside. The woman goes through various ruses to get Pootie back, and this is where the humor gets a little mean-spirited—but mostly because this particular actress is so GOOD, and really sells her lines. When she says “Don’t leave me out here by my lonesome,” you can sense her vulnerability and the way she’s trying to be “cute” as an approach to get him back, and the desperation the actress gets across is so close to reality that it’s just not funny anymore. What happens next goes against Pootie’s earlier admonition of a friend to “respect the woman.” Yeah, this last bit is kind of an unfortunate blot on an otherwise very good-hearted film. But, sorry, HILARIOUS.
SPOILERS > > >
Now the plot kicks in, and as with many movies, that means the best parts of the movie are over. Ireenie, the wonderful Jennifer Coolidge, seduces Pootie’s best friend Trucky and gets the secret that Pootie’s power comes from his belt. Then there’s a bit where Pootie actually kills a guy, and throws a big scene yelling “Why?,” then Pootie’s very Pootieness brings the guy back from the dead. I only mention this because of Biggy Shorty’s wonderful line “Now why would Tricky go and tell Ireenie all of Pootie’s business? I guess when you see a man being brought back from the dead, you forget shit.” So Ireenie gets Pootie super stoned and fucks him, then makes him sign a contract and takes his belt. Then Lectercorp uses Pootie’s image to come out with a bunch of ads for liquor and fast food, etc., and the public feels totally betrayed. We then see a bedraggled Pootie walking amlessly in the street.
Biggie Shorty now appears on the Costas show, defending Pootie to Costas, who has totally given up on him. “What do you think Pootie needs right now to bring him back to the man he was?” Costas asks. “He just needs some of my good lovin’,” Biggie Shorty says matter-of-factly. She gets a chance to show him that in the next scene, and offers a relative’s farmhouse for him to clear his mind in.
At the farm Pootie gets into a stalk of corn he is growing, connecting with the simple things, and is pressed into a relationship with the pleasantly plump sheriff’s daughter. There’s a funny scene where she brings him a cherry pie, and he starts smearing it all over his body, driving her into paroxisms of lust. Then his corn dies, and Pootie has a vision of his father as a big tall stalk of corn, and his mother as a wise cow. His father tells him—what else?—that he never needed the belt, and his power is inside him.
Pootie comes back, has a fight scene with 50 fake Pooties, reclaims his belt, and literally whips the ass of Robert Vaughan. Trucky ends up marrying the sheriff’s daughter, and Pootie vows to marry Biggie Shorty. And they all live happily ever after—except Trucky, for we see that the sheriff’s daughter turns into a nagging harpy upon marriage.
< < < SPOILERS END
I love it. Not everyone does. There are a lot of things that just seem stupid, especially if you don’t see how they are references to earlier films or R&B music. I like the way it blows of the mythical treatment of the super-powerful black male as seen in Shaft or Trouble Man or The Mack, and I love the bits of parody of blaxploitation film techniques/cliches, as well as parody of “impassioned” R&B music performance. Bit it is a big collection of little set-pieces, the most amusing of which are those up front that detail Pootie’s character, leaving the end to be filled with less-amusing pieces that primarily advance the plot. So it has the feeling of getting more and more limp as it goes along. Still, if you’re a fan of blaxploitation, it’s a total hoot. A healthy sense of the ridiculous is also a big help.
The credits feature a bunch of pretty worthwhile outtakes, and then the video for the 702 single, “Pootie Tangin’.” It’s amusing—but WHERE can I get that version from the opening?
Yes! Especially if you’re a fan of blaxploitation films and/or 70s R&B.