Director-cowriter Robert Townsend’s musical film, The Five Heartbeats, is essentially the Broadway hit Dreamgirls remade with the Y chromosome, a loosely fictionalized account of the rise and fall of a mid-’60s vocal group along the lines of the Temptations. This isn’t a bad idea for a movie, but since Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle) stages it mostly as a collection of show-biz biopic clichés, The Five Heartbeats never becomes credible enough to be involving. Even so, stars Townsend and the still-gorgeous Diahann Carroll are appealing, as are the faux-Motown songs coproduced by jazz keyboard player George Duke. And here and there are a couple of telling period details — a scarily thuggish record mogul, a young girl going near-orgasmic in her seat at the Heartbeats’ first performance — that offer hints of what this film might have been if Townsend hadn’t felt compelled to Hollywood it up. C

The Five Heartbeats
  • Movie
  • 121 minutes