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I think that Monkey Hustle is a very misunderstood film, mostly because
of a misleading ad campaign that tried (and still tries, via the VHS
and DVD packaging) to sell it as a plot-driven scam flick, a black
version of The Sting. That's not what this is. Daddy Fox, the con man
character is only a character in an ensemble. This film is much more
like Car Wash--a group of disparate characters in a common place
interacting. Except in this case the common place is a neighborhood
instead of a place of business. Although "Monkey Hustle" is a term
coined by Daddy Fox in an early scene,it doesn't only refer to con
games--it also refers to the way all the characters are hustling for
love, for success, or for respect. The direction is loose and the
performances are almost universally winning. Yaphett Kotto is amusingly
verbose as Fox and Rudy Ray Moore is hilariously--and purposefully--
over the top as numbers runner Goldie.
Now, I'm not saying that this was a great film, but it is a lot better than its rep, and certainly not the total artistic failure it is often represented as. One thing that holds the film back is that it does seem to be lacking a few necessary scenes near the end that would explain how Goldie and the Fox stopped the Freeway expansion. There are scenes that obviously lead up to that missing climax (with lots of knowing winks and secret smiles), and scenes after it is announced that the freeway project has been canceled (characters giving each other the "high sign")--but nothing about how the heroes made it happen!
However, plot is not a big part of this kind of movie. No, the most important element "Car Wash" had that "Monkey Hustle" lacked was a really great soundtrack of classic tunes to tie things together. "Monkey Hustle" is noticeably music-lite for its genre. There is one decent tune--the title track--and it gets played a lot. But lots of scenes cry out for music, and the ones that get it have to make due with endless variations of this same theme. I predict that if AIP had sprung for a funky soundtrack like the producers of Car Wash did, and the filmmakers had come up with even five or seven more minutes of action to explain the ending, "Monkey Hustle" would be seen as a minor classic of the 70's black film era. It never would have been a "Cooley High," but it could have at least been a little brother to "Car Wash" (and it is a HELL of a lot better than "Thank God It's Friday").
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although I found this movie entertaining, I'm afraid it made zero sense. How was anybody in the neighborhood capable of getting scammed by Daddy Foxx? Everyone in the neighborhood saw everybody else practically every day; couldn't they just get their money back the next day? And what was he supposed to be doing, anyways? Selling boxes? Who the hell was Goldie supposed to be, and what did Daddy Foxx have on him? What was the cop taking money for exactly, and why did he pay Baby D? How is it, at the end of the movie, that the bulldozers were already on the streets, ready to tear the town down, yet seconds later a fat guy pulls up in a limo and reverses the demolition? Long story short, this movie leaves many questions unanswered, but it did make me laugh a couple of times, so it got a 2.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's difficult to write a plot description for a movie like The Monkey
Hustle. On its surface, it would seem to be the story of a diverse
group of people banding together to stop a proposed freeway from
destroying their community. But the movie is just as much about a
cheap, small-time hood named Daddy Foxx (Yaphat Kotto) and the boys he
trains in hustling. Then again, The Monkey Hustle is about the
relationship of two young people and what they go through to be
together. Or is the movie really about a flamboyant would-be gangster
named Goldie (Rudy Ray Moore) maintaining his control over a community
through force? Actually, The Monkey Hustle's plot is a mish-mash of
ideas that, unfortunately, never seem to hit their mark. It's supposed
to be a comedy, but I can only think of a couple of instances that I
found remotely amusing. And even though The Monkey Hustle gets lumped
in with the blaxploitation movies of the period, it lacks the sex,
violence, and emotional charge necessary to be considered as such. What
does it say about a movie when the most generous adjective I can come
up with to describe it is "watchable"?
Did you ever watch a movie and feel like a reel or two were missing? That's how I felt after watching this movie. A big part of the plot is that Daddy Foxx has "something" on Godlie. Likewise, they both seem to have "something" on the Alderman. Infuriatingly, the movie never spells out or even hints at what the characters have on each other. In the films finale, we see Daddy Foxx and Goldie wink knowingly at each but why? It just doesn't make any sense. I feel like I feel asleep and missed crucial plot points.
I normally don't get into the messages or meanings of the movies I watch, but with The Monkey Hustle, I feel almost compelled to at least mention the mixed messages it sends out. Why are Daddy Foxx and Goldie made out to be the heroes? They don't do much of anything of value for the community. And neither man has any moral issues when it comes to stealing from their neighbors, thereby helping to maintain the status quo of poverty. It's a shame that the one educated black man in the community who was responsible for organizing the save the community block party isn't given any of the credit. Instead, it's the hustlers and the number runners who come out looking good as the real hero is shoved into the background.
This film has an untraditional style and format. The closest I could
compare it to is CAR WASH, as both are not about a particular person
but about a group of people living in a ghetto neighborhood. However,
unlike CAR WASH, this isn't a comedy though there are a few mildly
funny moments. Plus, while CAR WASH is not for everyone's taste, I
liked the film and found many of the characters likable.
This non-traditional narrative might bother many, as the film does seem rather disjoint. Plus, given that most of the people aren't all that likable (and several are very unlikable), the film isn't one I'd recommend you watch. It's really a shame because this style COULD have worked very well....with likable and more interesting people. The folks in this film are mostly hustlers--out of work young adults who will lie, cheat and steal to make a few bucks. Their idol is Yaphet Kotto--in an odd role as a master film-flam man.
The bottom line is that this just isn't a very good film--with an inferior script, lousy characters and a lackluster musical score. There are many, many Black-American films from the 70s that are so much better and more interesting than this dull mess.
If a white producer and a white screenwriter got together to produce a film
for a black audience anytime before the bicentennial, then this would be the
product. The language and expressions are so exaggerated as to be
excessively comic, then again perhaps this was the intended effect (though I
I'm reminded of the final scenes of Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle," where he plays a struggling actor who just got the lead in a low budget blaxpoitation production "Jive Time Jimmy's Revenge." Townsend is supposed to have an uncredited bit part in "The Monkey Shuffle," and one is almost certain that he was referencing the ridiculous direction given the actors in "The Monkey Shuffle." A true homage to demonstrate how shallow cross cultural understanding was at the time. An understanding made clear in this film.
With lines like "You sho-is bad!" and "Yo my main man!" one can't help but wonder how the guys at MST3K missed "The Monkey Shuffle" (probably because of the race angle; it being bad form and all to make fun of a black, or blaxpoitation, film). The story revolves around a band of two-bit hustlers, shuckin' and jivin' their way to the big time. Only they're supposedly stymied by a municipal urban renewal plan, that bulldozes their base of operations. A plan that's supposed to put a highway through the neighborhood. Too bad this wasn't played up in the film, because if you miss the few minutes of dialogue and other exposition given to the plot you'll miss it entirely. Not that you really need to know it, because it's hardly significant in the story.
There's lots of character development, but it's all one dimensional. The haircuts and costumes are laughable, and the plot doesn't come into play until the end of the film. Much of the movie is spent exploring the petty exploits of the "players," and "players" in training, and does nothing to develop either plot or story.
Well, it's been a while since I've heard expressions like "sho 'nuff" or "turkey" or even "sucka," so from a linguistics point of view it was kind of fun seeing paleolithic jive talk in action, but beyond that there's not much to offer here.
The film itself is supposed to be some kind of comedy, but I found myself hard pressed to laugh at anything other than the dated speech, costumes, and extreme mannerisms given by the characters.
If you want to see Blaxpoitation, then rent one of the better known Pam Grier, Jim Kelley, or Shaft films. Your brain'll thank you for it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Released in 1976, Monkey Hustle (or Hu$tle, as per the title cards) is
a so-so entry in the African-American action/comedy films that were
preeminent in the 1970's. The lead player here is Baby D (Kirk
Calloway), a Chicago teen who apparently is a con-artist in training.
He and his friends are mentored by Big Daddy Foxx (Yaphet Kotto), an
established con-man (read: 'hustler') who has taught his apprentices
how to fleece the unsuspecting from their (presumably) hard-earned
money and merchandise. The popular hangout for the kids is at Mama's
restaurant. Mama (Rosalind Cash) doesn't like the kids being taught how
to steal and con, and only barely tolerates folks like Foxx and the
even more flamboyant Glitterin' Goldie (Rudy Ray Moore).
The plot of the film, such as it is, tacitly revolves around plans for the city to build a highway that would go right through where Baby D and everyone else in this (south side?) neighborhood live. Thus begins the titular 'Monkey Hustle' which involves scamming city officials and others who have an interest in razing the neighborhood. Mostly, the civic activism of the plot only serves as a tenuous link for several extended skits and unrelated misadventures involving all the film's characters. Future soap star Debbi Morgan and future "Hollywood Shuffle" director Robert Townsend are among the film's younger cast.
The black "exploitation" trend was already waning in Hollywood, and this only had minimal success at the box office upon release. This is not among the 'classics' of the 70's era black comedies (that title goes to cult favorites like Uptown Saturday Night and Car Wash), but it's interesting to see respected character actors Kotto and Cash more or less slumming it and interacting with the likes of Moore (who basically plays a less foul-mouthed Dolemite here). Viewers who are not cult-comedy/exploitation/black-film completists should only rent, not buy.
A new highway threatens a Chicago neighborhood, so to protest the
residents throw a block party.
Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-half stars (out of four), calling it a "good-hearted muddle" but opining that "they must have left half the script back in Hollywood." Ebert did note with pleasure that the film's business justified opening the balcony at the now-demolished Roosevelt Theater, where he had not sat in four years. He is spot-on here. The film never really seems to have a direction and just sort of meanders. This can work on occasion, but does not seem to here.
In 2009, "Black Dynamite" star and co-writer Michael Jai White cited "The Monkey Hu$tle" as a major influence, telling the Los Angeles Times, "It was just brash, unlike anything I'd ever seen... I remember these bigger-than-life characters, who reminded me of my uncles, and it was the first time I saw anything familiar in my life on the big screen." This adds a little weight to the film that it does not provide itself, as "Black Dynamite" is truly impressive.
Story takes place in Chicago involving a hustler (Yaphet Kotto), who recruits four teenagers to perform rip-offs for him in exchange for pocket money. The other central point is a soul food restaurant owned and operated by Kotto's lady friend, played by Rosalind Cash, and Rudy Ray Moore as an underworld type who owes Kotto some big undisclosed favor. Good cast also includes Randy Brooks, Frank Rice, Fuddle Bagley, Donn Carl Harper, future producer/director Thomas Carter (pre-White Shadow), Kirk Calloway, Steven Williams, a small uncredited role by Robert Townsend and a young Debbi Morgan. Townsend and Williams also appeared in Cooley High.
This movie is worth renting just to see Goldie and his Goldie Mobile! Not a bad plot, and the song "Monkey Hustle' is a riot!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoyed this movie. The music was fantastic and the acting was
superb. Rudy Ray Moore was perfect as Goldie and Yaphet Kotto was
polite and fun to watch. It reminded me of Fast Times at Ridgemont High
or Honkey Tonk Freeway, where a set of characters behave independently
from each other, but then find themselves in a situation with a common
goal. Of course, this film was made before those movies, so it makes it
an original concept and a risky one. In this case it's to protest the
expressway from being built where they live. Rudy Ray Moore's character
ties the movie nicely at the end by providing Daddy Foxx with the favor
he owed him, as he sacrificed that debt with donating it to the
community. As mentioned in a previous comment, The Monkey Hu$tle isn't
just about what Foxx does, but also that it incorporates the hustles of
love, finding a career, politics, trying to get laid, avoiding the cops
and just working to find your way in life.
I love this movie, set in the mid-seventies amid a hot summer in downtown Chicago, it's the perfect glue that holds everything in place. It's a window into the past, where sometimes things were simpler and other times complicated, compared to today.
I gave it 10 stars for being original, for the entertainment value, the music, the cast and for daring to cast Rudy Ray Moore. I'm going to be watching this one over and over again.
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