The words ”written and directed by Ice Cube” may strike fear in the hearts of many moviegoers, but don?t let them scare you away from this potent, teeming ensemble drama set in a rowdy black Southern strip club. Working with the cinematographer Malik Sayeed, who brings the images the same voluptuous neon-hot glow he gave Spike Lee?s ”Clockers” and ”Girl 6,” the rap star-turned-auteur approaches the violent, degraded skin-trade setting with the lived-in zeal of a gangsta anthropologist.
He shows us the table dances and bachelor parties, the pimp-daddy postures and loaded-gun payoffs in all their nasty, funny bravura, but with an eye to the tragic ironies of a demimonde in which lust, power, and defiance rule the most intimate gestures. The narrative sprawls a bit too freely, but that?s part of the film?s hair-trigger force, and there isn?t a performance you feel you?ve seen before. Especially good are LisaRaye as Diamond, the proud middle-class stripper trying to keep her mind out of the funk, and Bernie Mac as Dollar Bill, the imperious club owner who trumpets whole sentences in a single mesmeric burst. In the dressing-room scenes, Ice Cube creates a high-tension community that transcends facile feminism: These strippers are too tough to be victims, too wary to be ”girlfriends.”