"YOU CAN MAKE A LOT OF MONEY IN THE STRIPPING GAME...."
And in the film industry. But the movies about the stripping game don't seem to. They never seem to be well-made, or even much fun. Why not? What's going on here? The characters and plot are so non-existent, they fall under the category of pornos without sex.
And who wants to see that?
Such cinema on the art form as "Showgirls" and "Striptease" made one wish the makers had followed pornography by example and not tried to have a plot. Multi-Razzie-winning schlockola only to be enjoyed only on the late-night UHF channel 93 super-cheese corn Ed Wood, Jr. level.
Good readers, take a deeeeep breath of relief that "The Players Club" has a slightly higher-quality of strip than glitzy dives like "Showgirls" and "Striptease." Not quite the British Oscar contender level of "The Full Monty," but not quite a "Striptease."
Written and directed by old-school rap superstar Ice Cube, "The Players Club" is a posh, yet harsh feature dealing with women needing big money really fast and undergo a whole lifestyle change in order to get it. Stripping changes who they are all over.
But hey--everybody needs money. Everyone wants to make more. That's the point of money. Even if you're Donald Trump, every single dollar there is... just isn't enough. We've all heard of the girl who turns trick in order as a last resort.
There are women who get into stripping 'cause they want the worship, the adoration. To control every man in the room--and her career.
But there are those who just need to make a lot of money really, really fast. When we meet Diana (LisaRaye), she's just had a fight with her father over which college she should go to. He throws her out. She leans on a guy for support. He gives her more than that. He gives her a child. Then he leaves with nothing.
A single black woman raising a baby on her own with no means. Such a sad, familiar story. So familiar, it makes it all the sadder.
To make ends meet, she gets a job at a thrift shoe-shop. Some strippers come in and tell her there are ways of making more money--much, much more. And in high demand. You're in charge of your career, your clientele, yourself. Diana is suddenly in charge of her own life--and may have all the means she needs.
The club that comes recommended by the strippers is "The Players Club," a ritzy posh gentleman's club it Atlanta, run by a pimp daddy named Dollar Bill. The place is always hopping like a hornytoad on hop with the kind of people you would like to get to know.
"Players" has a lot of the same gimmicks as "Striptease." One can only wonder... did The Ice Man see that movie... just before he wrote up this?
Big black contenders, buddies of the Iceman pop up. The reliable likes of Bernie Mac, Jamie Foxx, John Amos, Fazion Love, A.J. Johnson, Terrence Howard, Big Boy, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister and Michael Clark Duncan.
A lot of this is pretty warmed-over. But despite the blaxploitation roots and intentions, "Players Club" boasts and A-list cast and production values, thanks to the powerful status name of The Ice Cube and New Line Cinema.
LisaRaye gets a C-plus in her lead debut. Cube is quoted as saying he hired some fresh-face newbie actress so as his debut as filmmaker would be the important part, not a big name star-vehicle where the star names get all the notice.
Also green is Chrystale Wilson, making an ideal villainess as Ronnie. In scene after scene, she defines the "dominatrix." And as it goes without saying, the dominatrix dominates her every scene. Now THIS is blaxploitation.
Ronnie is another grand larceny scene-stealer that falls under the old movie saying of "the villains have the most fun--and ARE the most fun."
Bernie Mac takes this comic relief and makes it a plum. In the rich role of Dollar Bill, here is a man who is a club owner dressed like a pimp Don King (which is redundant), speaking like with a lot of philosophical wisdom that one picks up on the street, from the school of hard knocks. Business-wise, deep, yet ghetto.
Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx of "Ray" fame got his start in the biz as a stand-up comic and here as the solid supporting man love interest, the club's DJ Blue, it might've served him (and the freakin' movie) had he had dug up some of his archive bits from his "Def Jam" days.
You wouldn't think the DJ at a strip club would be especially important (Bill even tells Blue that to his face at one point), but he proves to be the very thing that Diana needs--even pulling it all together in the final act.
John Amos and Faizon Love are a buddy cop-pair have that Mutt-and-Jeff shtick going with Amos playing it straight and Love going for laughs. Amos as the ultimate hard cop, never coming close to smiling.
I really did enjoy this more than the last two "Friday" movies and Cube's "All About The Benjamins."
The Iceman himself has a running bit part as Reggie, a one of the regulars at "The Player's Club"--a hired thug and dabbles in some recreational crime for his own sake, like soliciting sex. He's friends with Clyde and Ronnie's brother, Junior.
Though there are times when Cube's stuff feels tired, his stuff underdeveloped. He's credited also as executive producer, which I think means he green-lit his own project. Sometimes, it pays to have an objective eye. Couldn't Cube's old director from "Boyz 'N' The Hood" John Singelton have come on down to give his former "Doughboy" some sage filmmaking advice?
The best thing "The Players Club" does is make a lot of its characters colorful and eccentric while keeping a lot of them fairly human. Cube tries to juggle, not making it a specific genre--but a "life film." His movie is comedy, drama, thriller, and action flick...
"Players" has Mr. Ice donning the solo hat here--as screenwriter, executive producer, director and supporting actor. The likes of Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch did all this. What made them so special? They could.
No classic, no picture belonging on the AFI's 100 Best, no one's absolute favorite of all time. But still worth seeing.
If no else, after seeing this one, you're sure of two things: stripping is a profession that pays big for a reason--there are rites of passage and perils.
You may never think the same again when you hit the strip joints, offer up that dollar you're waving into the air... and just who it goes to.
Despite it's blaxploitation roots, "Player's Club" mostly tries to sidestep a lot of opportunities to exploit or go for the really campy crap that helped earlier "white-stripper" movies get some viewers. But there's some camp here and there--all unintentional, I'm sure. The Cube ain't Spike Lee.
I wish Cube's partner-in-crime Chris Tucker from "Friday" would've popped-up at some point. Tucker is on par with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as a comic presence.
He's such talent, he's can bring even the deadest scene to life. Ol' Smokey nearly made "Friday" a must-see, he could've made this all the better.
There are times when Cube doesn't capture the energy he needs to. As director, he sometimes seems to be just recording. The camera is on auto-pilot rather than capturing a mood.
And blaxploitation is still alive, still thriving...
--A Believer in Big, Bad Black Cinema, Dane Youssef