Director/Screenplay – Louis C.K., Producers – Cotty Chubb, David Gale, Ali Le Roi & Chris Rock, Photography – Willy Kurant, Music – QD3, Additional Music – Prince Paul, Music Supervisor – Michael McQuan, Digital Visual Effects – Powderkeg Inc (Supervisor – Eric Wilson), Production Design – Amy Silver. Production Company – Paramount/MTV Films/Chris Rock Productions/Alphaville/3 Arts Productions/HBO Downtown Productions
Lance Crouther (Pootie Tang), Chris Rock (JB/Daddy Tang/Radio DJ), Wanda Sykes (Biggie Shorty), Robert Vaughn (Dick Lecter), J.B. Smooth (Truckie), Jennifer Coolidge (Ireenie), Reg E. Cathey (Dirty Dee), Christopher Wycoff (Sheriff), Cathy Trien (Stacey), Dave Attell (Frank)
Pootie Tang, music recording artist, martial artist and irresistible ladies man, speaks his own incomprehensible language. He is hero to the Black Nation, urging people not to drink, smoke and eat bad food. However, businessman Dick Lecter dislikes the way Pootie’s popularity is causing Lecter Corp’s sales of cigarettes, whiskey, burgers and switchblades to plummet. When Lecter fails to buy out Pootie, his only solution is to send out his hoe Ireenie to steal Pootie’s source of power – the belt that Daddy Tang used to beat him with.
The last few years have seen Black cinema colonising the superhero film with the likes of The Meteor Man (1993), Blankman (1994) and Steel (1997). Most of these films have emerged from Black comedy (the sector that the bulk of Black performers in the American film industry seems to be focused these days) – Pootie Tang, for example, began life as a Saturday Night Live sketch and is executive produced by and co-stars Chris Rock. The common theme that these Black superhero films share is a concern with hood issues – rather than saving the world, these superheroes stand up to gangs and drug dealers and, as here, to inspire Black people to look after their health.
If The Meteor Man was a Black take on Superman and Blankman a kind of inept Black Batman, then Pootie Tang is surely a Black take on The Adventures of Buckaroo Banazi: Across the Eighth Dimension (1984). The film’s central gimmick is that Lance Crouther speaks a nonsense language. This is an idea that was first done in the little-remembered Gerry Anderson tv series The Secret Service (1969), which featured Stanley Unwin as a priest/spy who burst into nonsense speech when under stress. The Secret Service was not a success, being cancelled after 13 episodes and is rarely seen today. Pootie Tang fared little better.
The idea might have been a cute Saturday Night Live sketch but as a film, Pootie Tang seems overextended and strained. There is not much that holds it together – the central concept is too slight to last the distance and there is only a vague plot. It is all interspersed with colourful MTV-styled pop-up visuals with people turning to address the camera and the action freezing for replays and so on. It is only in occasionally surreal moments of humour that the film stands out – the woman that follows Pootie Tang to his room, begging for anything, whereupon he puts out a bowl of milk for her; the appearances of Pootie’s father and mother as respectively a stalk of corn and a cow; his hit single, which consists of dead air.
The term ‘Pootie Tang’ is actually ghetto slang meaning respectively ‘ass’ and ‘pussy’. (Another derivation is ‘poontang’ meaning sex). In doing such, Pootie Tang has subversively thumbed its nose at the American censors – you can guarantee no other film would be allowed to get away with calling itself Ass Pussy or any other derivation of such.
Not too many people went to see the film. Although the end credits do make the valiant claim that “Pootie Tang will be back in Cole Me Down on the Panny Stie.”