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DVD review: 'Mo' Better Blues'

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'Mo Better Blues'


There are still plenty of lesser-known Spike Lee films to explore.

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'Mo' Better Blues' is up next.

Stick with me, here.

Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) is the leader of a jazz quintet that regularly plays at a club to a packed house. Things are going well, especially in the romantic department, as Bleek is seeing two women at the same time, Indigo (Joie Lee) and Clarke (Cynda Williams). Of course that's not going to be a situation that can be maintained for long.

The sax player in the quintet, Shadow Henderson (Wesley Snipes) begins to get selfish with his solos and has his eye on something bigger than playing second fiddle. Adding to the business confusion is their manager Giant (Lee) who is having no luck renegotiating the group's contract with club owners Moe and Josh Flatbush (John and Nick Turturro). Giant also has a gambling problem that is bound to catch up with him sooner or later.

As pressure comes down from all sides, Bleek struggles to keep his personal and professional life from crumbling.

The title is misleading as jazz is the genre at the heart of this story as opposed to the blues. The characters have their share of blues, but it can still be a tad deceptive.

Speaking of these problems, everyone in this film brings them upon themselves. Being emotionally distant, dishonest and selfish comes back to bite Bleek, Giant's gambling, and Shadow's scheming (though it is nice that he has a few redeeming moments late in the story) all make it hard to feel sorry for most of the characters.

There is very little driving the plot of this story. The quintet doesn't have to perform any huge showcase to get a bigger gig, every day and every show is essentially the same within this story. The music is just a reason for the setting and it helps to define the characters. What really drives this is the personal lives of the men which is largely uninteresting except for the deepening debt of Giant and the danger that comes with it. That is a peripheral story, though.

The ending is extraordinarily rushed and unsatisfying, relying upon a few characters having some drastic changes of heart in a matter of minutes. There isn't a sense that true growth within these people throughout the story that warrants these extreme actions.

There are some good performances in here: Washington and Snipes are particularly good while the late Robin Harris is another obvious highlight as the club's resident comedian who gives the film some real laughs. Too bad the material isn't stronger to live up to the talent here.

Special features include: nothing.

'Mo' Better Blues' is an overlooked film of Spike Lee's simply because it is one of his more inconsequential films. This is best left for Lee completists (this examiner), jazz fans or Denzel Washington fanatics.

Rated R 127 minutes 1990


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