THE PLAYERS CLUB
A mix of Showgirls, Striptease, and '70s Blaxploitation. Sounds like a
surefire recipe for camp, but against all odds, Ice Cube's directorial
debut The Players Club, if a bit uneven, works a lot better as a serious
drama than its individual ingredients would make it appear to be.
The Players Club is the name of a seedy Southern strip bar that counts
among its stable of dancers Diana Armstrong, a.k.a. "Diamond" (newcomer
LisaRaye). Like Demi Moore in Striptease, college senior Diana dances to
support her child and better her life (and pay her tuition). The Showgirls
ingredient comes in Diana's feud with lesbian-leaning bitch queen dancer
Ronnie (Chrystale Wilson), who has a lustful interest in her adversary.
Like a Blaxploitation heroine, Diana is also a headstrong superwoman,
determined to protect her naive, also-stripping younger cousin Ebony
(Monica Calhoun) from falling prey to the job's dark side; and more than
willing and able to kick whatever ass stands in her way.
Cube, who also wrote and has a small role, one-ups his film's stripping
cinematic cohorts by for the most part succeeding in his intentions. The
Diana-Ronnie feud, thanks in no small part to the solid performances by
Wilson and LisaRaye, never comes off as ridiculous. Cube has his cake and
eats it too--he even delivers the knock-down, drag-out catfight that
Showgirls promised but never delivered. And unlike Striptease, most of the
humor works. Earning the lion's share of laughs is Bernie Mac as the
club's sleazy malapropism-prone owner Dollar Bill; Jamie Foxx also has some
effective comic scenes as Blue, the club's DJ.
However, that's also where Cube runs into some trouble. The broad humor
and more cartoonish characters (like Dollar Bill and his righthand man
L'il Man, played by A.J. Johnson) are never seamlessly meshed with the
film's largely grim, gritty tone and earnest story. Some laugh lines fall
flat (one reference to co-star John Amos's former role on the TV show Good
Times is too obvious and in-jokey to be funny), as does some of the
dialogue in general; Cube sometimes offers hackneyed lines such as "I
walked into the Players Club a girl... and came out a woman."
But overall Cube guides The Players Club with a sure hand, and he makes a
true acting find with the commanding LisaRaye, whose diamond-hard charisma
recalls the young Pam Grier. Diana's mantra "Make the money; don't let the
money make you" is neither the most profound nor original statement, but
LisaRaye is able to make you believe it--and believe in it.
RATING: *** (out of *****)
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