peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2024 02 17 MoBetterBlues

Mo' Better Blues (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

More Spike Lee completism, prompted by Wesley Snipes. He's solid in a minor role and takes it to Denzel Washington every chance he gets. The rest of the cast is also very good excepting perhaps Lee himself as always. In an early scene he's acted off the screen by a passive Washington but the whole thing is redeemed by Lee's inability to hide his smirk or grin: he's so stoked to have pulled these stars. And soon enough he gets to indulge his love of a good pile-on (which he soon expanded to feature length in Jungle Fever).

The story centres on Washington's jazz/blues trumpeter making a living at a Jewish-operated nightclub run by John and Nicholas John Turturro. Snipes plays the saxophones, Giancarlo Esposito is on the piano. The musical interludes cut things up like School Daze. When not at the club he somehow manages to satisfy two ladies for a while until they get sick of being in the way of his trumpeting. Cynda Williams wants her singing career and she wants it now and isn't too bothered if Snipes proves the better vector. After some violence provoked by Lee's gambling compulsions Lee regular Joie Lee resists the damaged Washington's hard word but in a 25th Hour-ish outro it all comes full circle. That ending is lame, too much like a cast party.

I struggled to understand the point of it beyond what's on the tin: this is black music but the crowd is white. Fair enough but in 1990 I suspect the crowds were at R'n'B and hip hop gigs someplace else. There's also the time-honoured observation that the souffle doesn't rise twice, and it seems, contra Leonard Cohen, that you can get a girl back by begging ... though perhaps not on your knees?

Roger Ebert: three stars. Uninspired. Vincent Canby in meta-review mode: a response to Clint Eastwood's Bird. Not in the same league as Do the Right Thing. Washington is a professional, a working man, just like the boys in White Men Can't Jump. Lee felt the need to defend his Jewish characters. And so on.