Writer/director Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow” starts out like an updated homage to blaxsploitation, but turns out to be something else entirely. It’s the story of Djay (Terrence Howard), a Memphis pimp and drug dealer who we first see making the rounds with his girls, stopping by for a chat with his bar-owning friend Arnel (Isaac Hayes), and worrying about how to get enough high quality marijuana together for the arrival of Skinny Black (Ludacris), a superstar rapper who Djay claims to have known back in the day.
When the not-as-young-as-he-used-to-be thug bumps into Key (Anthony Anderson), an old high school buddy, they wind up watching Key record a gospel choir. The music is truly beautiful, and Djay is literally moved to tears. Next thing you know, it’s “Superfly” meets “The Commitments” as the pimp starts rapping and, with the able assistance of Key and geeky white boy Shelby (D.J. Qualls), overcomes a series of tragicomic obstacles as the would-be-rapper fights to get beyond his life of moral and economic squalor.
Any film which essentially fits within the “let’s put on a show!” dynamic is all about its heart, and “Hustle & Flow” has plenty of that. Djay is a remarkably nice guy for a pimp. One of his girls, Nola (Taryn Manning), becomes his “primary investor,” (fair enough, since it’s her booty that’s paying the bills). Shug (Taraji P. Henson) even gets to sing, which is only fair because she’s carrying Djay’s child. Lexus, a third floozy, gets kicked out – along with another of Djay’s children – which is only fair to her (though not to the kid) because, well, she’s a big ol’ bitch.
Okay, so “Hustle & Flow” might not win any awards from NOW, but it’s an involving and fun tale of redemption with many fine musical moments as well an enjoyable subplot involving the rotund Key and his understandably skeptical wife (attractive Elise Neal in a stand-out performance). All in all, it’s safe to say that “Hustle & Flow” is the sweetest pimp movie of all time.