If there wasn’t already another movie called Grindhouse, it would be a perfect title for this sultry Southern melodrama. It could have come straight from the summer of 1972, plucked off a double bill with Midnight Plowboy or Sweet Georgia. Even the poster has the tatty, faded look of a one-sheet from some good ol’ boy drive-in. See the ads and you’ll know the film’s lip-smacking selling point: stripped nymphette Christina Ricci is chained (yes, chained!) to a radiator by a Big Black Man (Samuel L Jackson). The reason? To cure her of the insatiable itch between her thighs... Yessir, this lil’ movie chomps on taboos and spits ’em out like chewing tabacca.
Black Snake Moan: it’s a title that pushes every panic button in the house of political correctness. Exhuming the South’s racial (racist) heritage, writer/ director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) stirs it up, with bean farmer Lazarus (Jackson) finding town ’ho Rae (Ricci) half-dead in the road after a wild night of drink, drugs and too many dicks. “I aim to cure you of your wickedness,” he thunders before trying to exorcise her demons with nothing more than blues music and radiator-chaining tough love. Lynch mobs have been provoked by less...
Props to the actors. Clad in nothing but panties and a cut off top, Ricci startles in a whorish role Susan Sarandon might have tackled in her prime. Ricci makes it her own: her impossibly thin waist and hollowed out face less porn mag eye candy than sideshow freak (if Mattel ever decide to do a Crack Ho Barbie, they need look no further). Meanwhile, Jackson is better than he’s been since Pulp Fiction, his grey-bearded, gold-toothed grandpa coming on like Jules’ Bible-bashing pops. Heck, he even plays his own blues tunes. Together they find moments of haunting power: Lazarus twanging his guitar during a thunderstorm as Rae clings to his leg in saucer-eyed terror, or a juke joint dance sequence that drips sweat off the screen.
Is there a deeper purpose to all the salacious come-on? Possibly not. Classic exploitation flicks used to promise more in the poster than they could possibly deliver on screen. Perversely, Brewer delivers the poster but nothing else, a simplistic movie so chronically lacking a point it’s arguably more offensive than daring. It ignores its racial dynamic, botches the abuse-redemption storyline and fumbles the suspense as the return of Rae’s jarhead boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) is carelessly tacked on. Even its God-bothering Gospel preaching seems like an afterthought, as it all leaves a bitter aftertaste.
On pimp-turned-rapper drama Hustle & Flow, Brewer was criticised for being a white guy playing to black stereotypes. Here he’s destined to take flak from feminists for creating a male fantasy whose lingering image is that of Ricci, beaten, bruised and broken and still begging for a God honest humping. She’s gotta have it... Oh yeah? Says who?
A poster in search of a movie, Black Snake Moan showcases Ricci and Jackson; yet like its heroine's outfits, it's in need of more layers.