Don't touch this: Hammer biopic falls short of the mark
As if getting his own episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" four years ago which was one of the very first episodes produced for the popular series wasn't enough, it was perhaps only a matter of time before MC Hammer was immortalized in TV-movie infamy as well.
"Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story," directed by Artie Mandelberg and starring relative unknown Romany Malco as the eponymous rapper and Bay Area native (despite bearing almost completely no resemblance to Hammer whatsoever), never rises above the level of cheesiness, predictability and tepid acting we're so accustomed to in small-screen, celebrity-biopic movies.
It also falls victim to an array of incredibly bad wigs and wretched outfits that even the Brady Bunch would've rejected.
It begins in 1974 with an eleven-year-old Hammer, then known as Stan Burrell (who was born in 1963; that's right, he'll hit the big 4-0 in less than two years) ditching church and running to the Oakland Coliseum, where he earns money by dancing to James Brown music in the parking lot. After being spotted by then-Athletics owner Charlie Finley, he's made an honorary batboy. He's soon nicknamed "Hammer" due to his resemblance to Hank Aaron. Scenes of bespectacled, wide-eyed Li'l Hammer in the dugout are spliced in with actual game footage. (And, he can apparently travel back in time as well; the ballgame shown is from 1972.)
They could have titled this "Behind The Music: The Movie" and nobody would have noticed, because that's what "Too Legit" comes across as. It's practically clockwork with the 1997 documentary; it includes scenes of Hammer failing to make the A's roster, meeting future wife Stephanie (played by Tangi Miller), plus Hammer selling records from the trunk of his car, then being discovered by Capitol Records you get the idea. Meanwhile, he's accompanied in practically every scene by his stone-faced brother, Wesley (portrayed by once-promising actor Royale Watkins, who probably still wishes to this very day that he'd turned down "Speed 2").
Despite all the aforementioned activity, everything moves so painfully slow up to the point when his career takes off and eventually comes crashing down, which let's be honest is what we're really interested in watching.
But when that time comes, the whole film then becomes a mess of a convoluted plot, a muddled script and positively abominable editing.
For example, we're shown a barrage of abrupt jump cuts of pre-1990s-fame Hammer cutting a record in a studio to choreographing dance moves on a basketball court to selling albums out of his car. Then, out of nowhere, everything instantly cuts to a tour bus parked in an inner-city neighborhood, accompanied by Hammer along with his outrageous haircut and huge entourage. Just like that.
And the violence factor is surprisingly high; there are numerous subplots in which a different character gets shot what seems every five minutes due to botched drug deals, band feuds and the like, and there is plenty of blood to boot. So many unimportant characters come and go quickly; I couldn't keep up with all of Hammer's friends and foes.
Much of the second half of the film is devoted to Hammer performing in concert and doing silly promotional TV spots for his 1990 album "Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em," that, as a result, everything else that follows is badly rushed. Some of his other accomplishments and shortcomings are ignored altogether (with the most notable being the ignominious absence of the smash hit "Pray").
Besides the inevitable scenes of Hammer staring dumbfounded at tax lawyers upon being informed that he's suddenly gone bankrupt, the film also portrays him as a blowhard egomaniac; he barks orders to and berates his backup dancers like a sergeant drilling a group of privates in between more lengthy concert scenes (which look like they were shot on a tiny soundstage) while engaging in occasional spats with his wife that anyone could see coming from a country mile away. Stop me if you've traveled this road before.
By the time the film focuses on Hammer's embarrassing foray into gangsta rap, his 1994 album "The Funky Headhunter," Mandelberg apparently forgot that he was making a movie about Hammer and not Tupac Shakur, for the latter inexplicably dominates the film's last 45 minutes. A gratuitous interpretation of Tupac's fatal shooting and subsequent lengthy shots of Hammer looming over his bedridden, comatose form arrive in full force, right before jump-cutting to one copout of an ending.
As is with Hammer, the actor portraying Tupac (who is not identified in the closing credits) looks nor sounds nothing like the real thing, either.
It must have been one hell of a well-kept secret that Hammer ever negotiated with Death Row Records, because I sure wasn't aware of it. Washed-up, has-been ex-wrestler Tony Norris (remember Ahmed Johnson, anyone?) is utterly laughable as gasp Suge Knight, who probably can't remember the last time his greatest hits didn't get him arrested.
Oh, and despite playing the most notorious figure of the 1990s rap scene, Norris is listed in the closing credits as merely the "Record Promoter." Huh?
Little mistakes pop up during the course of the film that hamper an already spotty effort. Hammer and Stephanie were married in 1985, not 1984. During Hammer's gangsta rap segment, Tupac is seen wearing a big red "FUBU 05" football jersey, which didn't even exist back in 1994. Contrary to what the film says, Hammer never signed with Death Row; "The Funky Headhunter" was released on the Giant label.
MC Hammer himself is actually given an executive producer credit, but I doubt he had much input in this flimsy movie to begin with. This is on the same level as "The Right Connections" (1997), in which he starred.
It definitely bears mentioning, however, that the charismatic Malco gives his all in this film. He handles the dancing scenes surprisingly well while lip-synching all of Hammer's songs, though I wonder if he could see a thing out of his glasses; those lenses were as big as the windshield of a '68 Cadillac.
"Too Legit" is pretty much only for Hammer diehards (if there are any left); "Behind The Music," although outdated, is far more informative and entertaining. But if there's anything that stands out in this movie, it's when Hammer snaps back at an interviewer who says that his music is not "street enough." It's the best part of the film and worth watching just for that moment alone.
"Too Legit" is an otherwise valiant effort that ultimately falls apart in the end. When you think about it, that's also pretty much MC Hammer's career in a nutshell. 5.5/10
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