Sunday, August 23, 2009

Palaver of a Baad Mutha – Shut Yo Mouth

Melvin Van Peeples (left) with actors, Daralyn Jay and Anthony Chisolm outside Cinema Village after the premiere of "Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha." Photo by Yours Truly.

MELVIN Van Peeples as Ex-Doofus and narrator, in reflecting on his colorful life, is recalling the circumstances of his birth – which sound suspiciously like a cock-and-bull story – but that’s the gospel truth, according to his mother, he insists.

My running buddy, Daralyn Jay, who appears in “Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha,” later disclosed that she was initially wary because she didn’t know where “Confessions” was going, all the while thinking it may not be going to a good place. Me, too. In fact, I’d begun to tune out MVP’s words and focus on his get-up: a gray pinstripe suit, mint green pinstripe shirt, pink ascot and mean brim. In the opening moments of “Confessions,” he may be rambling, but he is sharp (as a tack) doing so.

We needn’t have worried, for in his own good time MVP tells his story. Actually, there are myriad stories in “Confessions”: a coming-of-age-tale; a story of a knucklehead who learns his lessons early, courtesy of life’s brass knuckles; a story of determination; a story about setting and achieving goals; a story about pursuing and living one’s dreams; a story about the power of love – for a profession/calling and, for a woman.

“Confessions,” which will no doubt be compared with 1971’s seminal and angry (understandably so) “Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song,” is based on MVP’s forthcoming graphic novel of the same name. While in the credits, it is noted that "Confessions" is also based on MVP’s Broadway turn, “Waltz of the Stork,” he dismissed that notion during a Q&A after the premiere Friday night – his birthday … uh hum … No. 47.

Its origins, notwithstanding, “Confessions” takes you places. After that opening ramble the scene quickly cuts (some mighty fine editing here and throughout) to his life as a poor Chicago boy who has wanderlust and a desire for a better life, preferably in a paradise. In double-quick fashion the youngster/runway hits the road. His journey takes him to the cab of a cargo truck, the Hudson River, high seas, a number of paradises, West Africa and Harlem. It’s combination cartoon/fantasia, with overtones of “Alice in Wonderland” propelled by a blues, jazz, opera, gospel soundtrack. Whereas, the autobiographical “Sweetback” was defiant and angry, “Confessions,” less so, is satiric and surreal. In fact, it has an engaging purity and universal themes that everybody can embrace – even The Man.

As the title character in “Confessions,” MVP plays himself at various ages (from pre-pubescence to grown-ass man), even managing to do some credible and palatable love scenes, though the scene showing him in the last throes of teendom trying to woe the ladies falls flat. It is supposed to be funny, but is as clumsy and awkward as he is as a would-be Casanova. And Stephanie Weeks as Rita, the love of his life, is leaden. She and MVP have zero chemistry. Though she has a great face (but distractingly bad skin; is it a metaphor for life as a bumpy road?), her doe-eyed innocence and goodness don’t seem real. It's not enough to explain the power she has over MVP's character. Indeed, her acting shows, and it isn’t pretty. The blame, however, should be placed as much at the feet of MVP as SW.

Still, MVP seems to have brought all of his prodigious talents to bear in this film. His credits: director, editor, composer, producer. And writer: On the Doofus teen’s first night in Gotham, he sleeps on a park bench to save money. A prostitute offers “some thrills”; later a pimp rolls up to offer “some pills.” Pity that’s the only line Yours Truly can remember, but trust me, there are many bons mots.

“Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchy Footed Mutha,” is showing at the Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St., Greenwich Village (New York). It will begin to open at select cites (including Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami) around the country starting on 11 Sept.

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