As a jazz movie, Mo’ Better Blues isn’t much — a fantasy that will leave jazz buffs wondering how much time director Spike Lee has spent observing the real jazz scene. The movie’s glossy club is unlike any in the real world, and so are most of the musicians; a mo’ better depiction of the jazz world would have made a much mo’ better movie.

The film’s unique charm derives from Spike Lee’s surprisingly generous take on middle-class values, which he argues can either nurture or stifle creativity. Denzel Washington’s insufferably smug Bleek Gilliam is a trumpet player caught between two women (homey Joie Lee, glamorous Cynda Williams); loyalties to his band (memorable portraits by Wesley Snipes and Giancarlo Esposito) and manager (Lee); music and business; and the past and future. In Lee’s odd script, the Washington character has to lose everything as an artist before he can find his bearings as a man; it’s a startlingly masochistic view. And the cheap, anti-Semitic caricatures of club owners Moe and Josh Flatbush (John and Nicholas Turturro) are unfortunate. But Lee’s better instincts carry this film, which loses nothing in its transfer to the small screen. In fact, Ernest Dickerson’s richly hued cinematography and Lee’s tight camera set-ups seem especially well-suited to TV. B

Mo' Better Blues
  • Movie
  • 130 minutes