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Running Time: 98 minutes
Starring: Richard Pryor
Written by: Rocco Urbisci & Paul Mooney & Richard Pryor
Directed by: Richard Pryor
Retail Price: $19.95
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)
Released: February 19th, 2002
After succesful comedian Jo Jo Dancer (Richard Pryor) sets himself on fire accidentally when he tries to freebase cocaine, his spirit "alter ego" comes alive and takes a look back at his life. From his complex childhood that is pretty heartbreaking, all the way to the rise of his mega fame as a comedian, Jo Jo has to come to terms with himself and his substance abuse problem which just seems to get worse and worse as he becomes more and more successful. Jo Jo looks back at his parents, his abusive father, his struggles to follow his dream. It all goes uphill, and then comes crashing down.
There's no denying that Richard Pryor is one of our greatest comic minds of all time, and it's quite sad to see him suffering from ms these days. For those wanting to know about Pryor's life, "Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling" is basically his autobiography, slightly modified. That's not a bad thing, and he has an interesting approach to it. Basically, the alter ego visits his life and watches it, and then communicates with his younger self and other characters in life to reassure them and himself about who he is. I like films that deal with reflection. "Jo Jo Dancer" is not a terrible film, but it's not great either. I think it's one of those movies that sounds well on paper, but somehow becomes flawed through its perceptions and what Pryor wants to personally accomplish.
For me, the main problem lies in the story arc. The conflicts and problems it does present to us as an audience are rather heartbreaking, sad and true. Yet it's how they're portrayed is the problem. You really get the sense that Pryor mainly made this movie for himself, kind of like his own therapy to reflect on his life. Because of that, I found it hard to relate to it. The film jumps around too much form its own good. The dialogue is rather standard, brief and has this totally generic feel to it. Yes, you get the sense it's Pryor, but it really could just be anybody. I found the movie to be like a short story that a student would write in elementary school... their writing skills are not perfected yet, so they tell their story anyway they can and how they know it. Usually, that can be brief and alienated from touching us somehow, even if we know what the student author is going for and what he or she is trying to do. I felt like Pryor was doing that with this film. How he hammers his stuff is too brief... it's all direct without much buildup. You always know where it's going to go. There's not much new to this story. I see why people dislike this movie and I see the flaws: in retrospect, it tries to be something more dramatic than it is but it turns out to be a fest of clichés.
The film actually has a good message about success and what success can do to you. It's about saving yourself from self-destruction. It's about realizing who you are and how your life shapes you, be it good or bad. Pryor's acting here is top notch, as he is open, true and honest (probably because he is more or less playing himself). His directing style is also nice... I liked the jumps back and forth between the hospital and flashbacks. But like I said, it's Pryor and the other two writers who make this movie from reaching what it could have badly. I guess it's like an experiment... it's interesting, but falls flat and doesn't bring any major results. Still, it's good for what it is, and if you're a Pryor fan, it's a must see.
"Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling" is presented in both 1.33:1 full screen and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall, these transfers are pretty good, but flawed like the movie itself. There is dust, pieces of dirt and blemishes on the print. They pop up here and there but are never too distracting. The film can be quite grainy and fuzzy too, and it's always pretty soft. There's not much else to say about the transfer. It could be worse, but it's not bad. Still, it's nothing rather spectacular. Just average.
I found the English two channel mono to be quite a surprise. Sure, it's no 5.1 mix, but it has a nice ambiance. There is no distortion within the track or any hiss, and you can hear what the characters are saying just fine. You can also hear the background noises too, which do pack their own punch believe it or not. They're not major, but certainly surprising for a mono track. The music sounds good and the opening scenes when Jo Jo is burned do bring their own flair. Also included are English subtitles, French subtitles and English closed captions.
Interesting but it flops, "Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling" is not for everyone. Pryor's fans will like it, but there is not much appeal to audiences, unless you like biographical dramas that are pretty one-sided. The DVD presentation is decent. There are no extras, but the price is right. So go nuts.