Richard Pryor is playing three different roles here. The first being a poor orange picker named Leroy Jones who gets laid off when by mistake he joins the worker's union during one of their... See full summary »
Richard Pryor is playing three different roles here. The first being a poor orange picker named Leroy Jones who gets laid off when by mistake he joins the worker's union during one of their demonstrations. Afterwards he is forced to leave his wife and family behind which also includes Leroy's father (also played by Pryor) to go to Los Angeles. Leroy ends up working for the same company that fired him back home. He is a manager at the company but he is now distant from his former pals. He meets and falls in love with Vanetta who is a labor organizer which leaves him splitting time between his wife Annie Mae and Vanetta. When Leroy finds out that the Reverend Lenox Thomas (also played by Pryor) has got his wife pregnant while he was absent, he then make the moves on the reverend's wife. Written by
Based on "The Seduction of Mimi", this Americanized version of the script loses much in the translation. Significantly damaged are the cutting social satire and the tragic aspect. The original, dealing with radical Italian politics and labor issues, Italian concepts of family honor, traditional Italian gender roles and an intimidating pyramid of social corruption MIGHT have worked here IF the Hollywood scriptwriters knew how to superimpose a uniquely American template onto these themes and redrew the map to fit. Instead they used the original script verbatim and threw-out anything too idiomatic, replacing political irony with rather dumb 70s TV sitcom jokes.
This left Pryor in the unenviable position of having to shore-up this spineless farce. He's left pretty much on his own. As in too many Peter Sellers movies, he's given free reign to pad the scenes with comic improvisation. In front of an audience Pryor was a genius at this. The camera just doesn't pick it up here. Most of his valiant efforts fall flat. Both Margaret Avery and Marilyn Coleman give more finely tuned comedic performances.
Pryor may actually be miscast. The role of Leroy calls for a Chaplineque everyman caught in the middle of tyrannical forces over which he has no control and must constantly deny his ideals and desires in order to survive. The role calls for an idiot, but a sympathetic one, and Pryor isn't credible as a dope. When he attempts to look clueless, he looks like a hip wiseguy trying to look innocent. And that's really funny in the right situation. But here it works like a spice trying to taste bland.
Fortunately, Pryor would try his hand at this type of character in Blue Collar with far better results.
I'm certain most of the blame can be leveled on both the producer and director. Steve Krantz was okay with cartoons, but a total hack at producing live action films. He was probably hovering around impeding the camera-work and making sure there were no retakes. Michael Schultz never made much of his directorial career and is particularly stale in the comedy genre. After some early potential he quickly sold himself out as a Hollywood flunkie for square producers like Krantz.
Five stars for Pryor because anything he's in is worth a look, plus an extra star for Avery, Coleman and gratuitous sightings of Korla Pandit and Hank Worden.
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