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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"You hear what they're saying about you? They're saying you're not gonna make it."
DVD ReviewOne of the defining moments of the drug-addled 1980s was Richard Pryor's freebase-fueled attempt at making himself a Molotov cocktail. In this biopic, Pryor uses the incident as a springboard to review his life, loves and struggles onstage through a variety of flashbacks and by using himself as an alter ego. In the hospital burn unit after his escapade, Jo Jo Dancer (Pryor) reviews his life as a child in a brothel, his unhappy life with his father, and his attempts to get onstage. Once success hits, it's a steady spiral of women, alcohol and drugs of sundry varieties. The alter ego, like a Greek chorus, comments on the action, and occasionally interacts with Jo Jo himself. Those seeking a comedy are bound to be disappointed here. Except for some segments in the standard-issue montage of the Rise to the Top that feature clips from Pryor's comedy routines, this is serious going. It also has a tendency to wallow in self-pity rather than self-examination, though there the alter ego does occasionally provide some much needed perspective. Pryor, not surprisingly, does a good job in essentially playing himself. Of the many women that he's involved with, he really seems to have chemistry with Debbie Allen, highlighted by a rather erotic pool game. The rest of the supporting cast is rather good. Very notable are Paula Kelly as Satin Doll, who takes Jo Jo under her wing, Scoey Mitchell as Jo Jo's brutal father, Ken Foree as Jake the brothel bouncer and E'Lon Cox as the young Jo Jo. The special effects that permit Pryor to talk to himself (billed as Gemini Effects in the credits) are actually quite credible and seamless. Obviously, this would be a snap with digital technology, but in the mid-1980s this was some pretty spectacular stuff. The score by Herbie Hancock is first rate and packed to the gills with classic period tunes.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The widescreen transfer is not bad. It tends to be rather grainy throughout, though, and color is somewhat muted. The look is typical 1980s film, as appropriate. There are some splashes of color (typically onstage) that look fine. Shadow detail is very good, though the picture in general is a bit soft. Some segments, especially in the last reel, are plagued with dirt on the source material, but for the most part the print looks fine.The full-screen version crops the sides of the picture and opens mattes, particularly adding to the bottom of the picture. While this avoids a cramped feeling that a straight pan & scan transfer would create, it interferes with the compositions significantly. For example, in the sequence where Jo Jo first goes on stage, a great deal of unnecessary and distracting picture with backs of heads and stage lights appears on this version; that material is cropped off of the widescreen version, just leaving visible Pryor on the stage.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround track has a very broad soundstage and an excellent sound. The Hancock score comes through extremely well. The dialogue is clear throughout. There's a surprising amount of surround activity, though no significant deep bass to speak of. I didn't note any significant hiss or noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Extras Review: There are no extras, but the chaptering is generous and there are at least English subtitles.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsRichard Pryor's life goes up in flames on film; while it's not a comedy, it does manage to hold interest more than the average biopic. A decent transfer and a good score make this worth checking out, though there are no extras to be seen.
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