TV's Smooth Operator Has Rough Going on Big Screen

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"Pootie Tang" is not the falsetto exclamation of a birdbrain cartoon canary, nor is it the marketing moniker of a new instant breakfast tonic ingested by astronauts. "Pootie Tang" is instead the title of a feature film spun off from a skit originally aired on HBO's "The Chris Rock Show."

And as a big-screen vamp on the cable sketch, it plays itself out long before "The End" crawls into view. Here necessity is not always the mother of invention, but rather the producer of on-screen filler.

As presented here, Pootie Tang (also known as P.T.) appears as a super crime fighter/recording artist/stud/all-around-do-gooder who's all things to all people. Yep, P.T. (Lance Crouther, reprising the role from the TV show, and also a co-writer of the feature "Down to Earth") is a can-do guy. He makes kids want to emulate him, women want to embrace him and crooks want to deface him.

Especially keen on deep romancing P.T. is a bodacious babe called Biggie Shorty (Wanda Sykes), who burns to know what super stuff lies beneath the sheets when Pootie is off duty. The fact that Pootie utters pronouncements in a soulful gibberish that sounds like backward Esperanto filtered through fractured pig Latin by way of "A Clockwork Orange" argot only adds to his charm.

Pootie's means of banishing the forces of evil involve wielding a lethal belt, brandishing this pants-holder-upper as deftly as any samurai ever seized a savage sword. He also dodges bullets with the dexterity of a refugee from "The Matrix" and can be found kung fu fighting with Bruce Lee's agility. Though Pootie has his admirers, he also generates hard hatred. Chief among Pootie's opponents are filthy (as in stinky, grubby) drug king Dirty D. (Reg E. Cathey), whom P.T. has locked away; and LecterCorp Chief Executive Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn), the oily magnate of an unscrupulous mega-corporation dedicated to marketing to kiddies such bad goods as switchblades, liquor and cigarettes. One of Lecter's men boasts to Pootie: "To you they're children; to me they're dollars." However, Pootie and his posse (Chris Rock, JB Smoove, Mario Joyner) are on the trail, and such villainous deeds will not go unpunished.

Hatching a plot to destroy Pootie, Lecter gets his sidekick Ireenie (Jennifer Coolidge) to force the do-gooder into a compromising position. She successfully contrives to make Pootie contractually agree to let LecterCorp deploy his likeness on its unsavory products. Moreover, she filches his charmed belt. Pootie, now a shadow of his former formidable self, shakes his booty out of the city, retreating to a farm where he can regroup and consider his next move.

This slapdash sendup of numerous genres ('70s blaxploitation, cinema verite, superhero sagas and gritty urban dramas) contains some clever moments, such as Pootie recording a smash hit lacking words or music. Rock, who pops up in several cameos in addition to playing one of Pootie's key pals, can be entertaining. Additionally, the over-the-top disco graphics and purposefully dated soundtrack (wah-wah pedals punctuate the music) are a kick, and the cast appears to be having a ball with this goofy conceit.

But director-writer Louis C.K. relies too heavily on low humor in attempting to arouse high comedy. Moreover, the voice-over narration drags the proceedings down, and Pootie's constant claptrap ceases to be funny even early on. "Pootie Tang" too often is as garbled as Pootie's own jargon.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sex-related material, language and drug content. Times guidelines: Some of the language and humor may be inappropriate for younger teens.

'Pootie Tang'

Lance Crouther: Pootie Tang

JB Smoove: Trucky

Jennifer Coolidge: Ireenie

Reg E. Cathey: Dirty D.

Robert Vaughn: Dick Lecter

Wanda Sykes: Biggie Shorty

Chris Rock: JB

Mario Joyner: Lacey

Cathy Trien: Stacy

Paramount Pictures presents in association with MTV Films and Chris Rock Productions an Alphaville/3 Arts Production in association with HBO Downtown Productions. Writer-director Louis C.K. Produced by Cotty Chubb, Chris Rock, David Gale, Ali LeRoi. Executive producers Van Toffler, Sean Daniel, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Becky. Co-producers Blair Breard, Louis C.K. Director of photography Willy Kurant. Production designer Amy Silver. Editors Doug Abel, David Lewis Smith. Costume designer Amanda Sanders. Music supervisor Michael McQuarn. Additional music Prince Paul. Music score QD3. Casting Brett Goldstein. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

In general release

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