What are some movies, the more obscure the better, with which you are familiar and have yet to see? Is that too specific of a question, perhaps? I am simply searching for a way to back into the subject that is the improbable film Pootie Tang (2001), a film that I knew a lot about but still had not watched all the way through. The point of this review will not simply be to talk about it as I usually do with others, assessing its merits and waxing philosophical and/or sarcastic. It will also be to explain the madness contained therein. While I will, of course, say more, you may be interested in knowing before I get started in earnest that this seeming spoof of African American culture was written and directed by Louis C. K. Make of that little factoid what you will.
The title character in Pootie Tang (Lance Crouther), is some kind of superhero. This is apparent from the opening scenes when the universal role model appears on a talk show hosted by Bob Costas (as himself) to promote his new movie. What unspools from there as a clip he is showing the full-time sportscaster is an entire film. In essence, you are watching a movie-within-a-movie. We then see Pootie performing all kinds of incredible feats in cleaning up crime on the streets, being a beloved ladies’ man, and speaking incomprehensible words that everyone just intuitively understands. In short, he is the coolest guy ever. The source of his power is a belt that he inherited from his father (Chris Rock) after dad was beaten to death by a gorilla (who is clearly a guy in a costume) on the floor of the factory where he was employed. This is near Gary, Indiana, by the way, so this was just a random gorilla terrorizing the industrialized area on the south shore of Lake Michigan. Anywho, with this belt, Pootie can slap anything in the blink of an eye and have it back around his waist before you can say, “sa da tay,” one of his many catch phrases. Such is his impact on society that the evil corporations of America, embodied by Dick Lecter (Robert Vaughn), are seeing their profits on liquor and dice, and everything vice, plummet. Being the honest, ahem, saint that he is, Pootie is open about what gives him his strength, making it a target for Dick. He then sends his femme fatale, Ireenie (Jennifer Coolidge), to seduce him into not only giving up his belt but signing a contract that will put his image on all the products he had, er, spoken(?) against. This ruins him. The person who comes to his assistance is the perpetually dancing Biggie Shorty (Wanda Sykes). She is in love with him and encourages him to get away for a while in order to “find himself.” The spot for this journey of self-discovery is a farm, but eventually Dick discovers his location. He sends the aptly named Dirty Dee (Reg E. Cathey), a villain that Pootie defeated in the beginning of the film, to kill Pootie. Unfortunately for Dirty Dee, the ghost of Pootie’s father had already told Pootie that he did not need the belt to be great. With this knowledge, Pootie is able to dodge Dirty Dee’s bullets Matrix-style while at the same time making it look like dancing. Pootie then reclaims his belt anyway, which Dirty Dee had taken for himself, and heads back to the city. Once there, he is able to defeat an army of look-alikes and see Dick arrested. He also earns his way back into the hearts and minds of the public, and seemingly lives happily ever after.
I do not know what to say about Pootie Tang. I cannot even decide if it is racist. It was made at a time when no one would have raised an eyebrow at a white man spoofing black culture. I doubt the same thing could happen today. At the same time, Pootie is a character that is certainly meant to be admired, at least in the context of the film. Obviously, it does not work with Faith. While it is good that he stands up for right, and fights crime and corruption of all kinds, he also is deified in some respects. Women fling themselves at him, quite literally, and his promiscuity is unfortunate, though overlooked by all who admire him. As odd as it might seem, to me it speaks to how much the concept of being a gentleman has changed in recent years. One of the key aspects of being that kind of man was to protect the virtue of a woman. Virtue is something that God gives to all of us, but with women it took on greater importance owing to their potential role as mothers. If you take a look at Theology of the Body, a topic I have alluded to in other reviews, it discusses how sex is a special act of union not only between two people, but with God, and therefore reserved for the sacrament of marriage. Pootie has never heard of this concept, though the same can be true of most of society today. He would engage in sex acts for the asking, and be praised for it.
One thing I will give Pootie Tang credit for is that it is not gratuitous. Yes, sex is casually referred to throughout, and the language is coarse (when understood). At the same time, it is a lot tamer than what it could be. I do not recommend the film by any stretch. It is a trap-movie. Pootie does stand for justice, but also “free love,” for lack of a better word. Putting aside the latter, he can be seen as a role model. However, he is presented in a ridiculous comedy that does nothing but utilize African American stereotypes for cheap laughs. In summation, I do know what to make of all of it.