Friday, December 5, 2008

Cadillac Records

“That mother fucker!”

The film, written and directed by Darnell Martin, tells the tale of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) and the creation, tribulations, and successes of Chess Records which boasted now legendary artists Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), all of whom are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Given these figures you might expect something more than your basic paint-by-number music biopic. If so, like me, you’ll be disappointed.

We get the basic stories - the cheater, the drug addict, the crazy one, etc. What we don’t get is any historical context about who these people were or their lasting effect on music.

The script overreaches in an attempt to tell multiple stories about the lives of each person involved in Chess Records. The end result tells us very little about anything. It might work as a primer for young kids, except it’s Rated-R for profanity and adult content.

There are some nice performances wasted here. I’m most impressed with Beyonce who is beginning to show some acting ability, even if she’s badly miscast. And everyone does a fair job performing the many musical numbers in the film, but once again there’s no stand-out performance or number which would make this film more than the sum of its parts. Plus you have to deal with the fact as passable as these performers are you’d rather be listening to the real musicians they are portraying than the attempts to cover their songs.

I’m not sure who the audience is for this film other than rabid fans of Def or Beyonce (neither of whom appear until half-way through the movie). Although Cadillac Records isn’t a hard movie to watch it is hard to discuss in terms of filmmaking because of its bland nature and unwillingness to create anything more than a collection of mildly amusing events and tunes. It’s like trying to critique the color toupe; you can do it, but what’s the point?

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