Plot summary (with possible spoilers): DJay (played by Terrence Howard) is a low-level Memphis pimp and drug dealer who is going through a midlife crisis. He’s tired of the daily grind, and wants something more out of life. Moreover, he can’t stand the fact that a guy named Skinny Black (Ludacris) from the same ‘hood has risen to legitimate rap star status, especially since DJay had even better musical skills when they were in school together.
Things start to change when DJay gets a keyboard as a drug payment from some homeless guy looking for a quick high. DJay starts experimenting with music and writing down some lyrics, thinking that maybe he can make it as a rapper someday. After he randomly meets up with another old school pal Key (Anthony Anderson), now a sound technician, the two agree to work together. Key brings in Shelby (DJ Qualls), the three set up a makeshift sound studio in DJay’s house, and they get started on laying down some tracks.
Meanwhile, DJay continues to have trouble with his “girls”. First there’s Lexus (Paula Jai Parker), a part-time stripper who shows DJay no respect and is always complaining about stuff. Then there’s Nola (Taryn Manning), a prostitute who, like DJay, wants something more out of life than just turning tricks. And finally, there’s Shug (Taraji P. Henson), a prostitute who is pregnant with some trick’s baby and who is the one DJay actually has feelings for. The conflict generated by these three women drive the film almost as much as DJay’s desire to be a rapper.
Once the basic premise is set up, the film shows DJay, Key, and Shelby going through the creative and technical processes required to put together a demo tape. Their goal is to get the tape into Skinny Black’s hands when he comes back to Memphis for a party on the 4th of July. DJay says he knew Skinny Black back in the day, so as long as the tape gets done, he thinks Skinny Black will hook him up with some air time.
Things don’t quite go as planned, however. DJay ends up in jail after Skinny Black disses his tape, leaving Nola in charge of making sure the demo songs get some airplay. She actually comes through, which makes the future look just a little bit brighter for the main characters.
- I thought the basic premise of a two-bit pimp having a midlife crisis was a good one. I’d never seen anything like that in a movie before, and I was instantly drawn into the story. I’ve always wondered if people like that ever hope for something more out of their lives. I guess at least some of them do.
- DJay was an interesting character. He had some good in him, but had some massive flaws, too. I liked how the filmmakers didn’t pull any punches when it came to highlighting his flaws. For example, he was positively brutal in the scene where he kicked Lexus and her baby out of the house even though they had no place to go. And he showed his true colors once again when he forced Nola to have sex with the pawnshop owner in order to get the expensive mic he wanted. But all this added up to a character that I was willing to watch for two hours. I was instantly drawn into his world and his story.
- The two songs “Whoop That Trick” and “It’s Hard Out There For a Pimp” were actually good and sounded like they could indeed become rap hits. This was an important aspect of the movie, and made the whole thing a bit more believable.
- I liked that Nola was able to get the song on the air by sleeping with a DJ. After all, that’s what she knows best. It would have been ridiculous to have her turn out to be some savvy businesswoman at the end there, so I’m glad the writers didn’t take that road.
- I didn’t really understand why DJay was so pissed about Skinny Black dumping his demo tape in the toilet. DJay himself later admitted that he never actually knew Skinny Black, so why did he feel like the guy owed him something? Yeah, if they were friends back in the day and Skinny dissing DJay after becoming famous, I could see why there would be some anger. But the way it played out didn’t make much sense. And only 11 months for assault with a deadly weapon? Wow.
- The ending felt kind of rushed. I wish there had been more time to see DJay, Key, Nola, Shelby, and Shug enjoying the fruits of their labors.
I was pleasantly surprised by Hustle & Flow. I know it received some positive reviews and Oscar attention for Terrence Howard and the “Pimp” song, but I was still a bit skeptical before sitting down to watch it. The film was compelling all the way through, and held my interest and attention from beginning to end. The story is well told and has memorable characters. I give it 4 stars out of 5.