By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 28, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Bruce Talamon
  • Movie

In Black Snake Moan, Christina Ricci plays Rae, a backwoods Tennessee baby doll who’s been done wrong all her life — beginning with her daddy’s dirty hands — and that’s why she’s now a raging nymphomaniac: When Rae’s one true love, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, Renaissance man!), ships off to Army boot camp, she’s instantly itchier and wilder than a cat on a hot tin movie set. To quote the precise medical diagnosis of one of the townsfolk: ”She got dat sickness. She gotta get d— or she go crazy.” Stat!

Samuel L. Jackson plays Lazarus, a Memphis musician who’s been done wrong by his wife — she’s run off with Laz’s brother — and that’s why he has stopped singing God’s gift of the blues and done taken up religion. Rae’s angry, he’s angrier. She’s white, tiny, and near-naked; he’s big, black, and clothed in righteousness, telling her, ”I aim to cure you of your wickedness. You sick. You gonna mahhhhnd me.” He chains her to a radiator for her own good and sings to her, and she comes to love him for it and… huh? The mind wanders: Why has that petite actress got a big old heavy chain locked around her nekkid waist? Why does Jackson wear such a flashy set of grills? Why do these blues feel so imitative, so pretend, so green?

There’s no way, no way at all, to enter writer-director Craig Brewer’s wet, hot, lurid Bible lesson and music jamboree except to throw your hands up in the air, do a little shimmy, and jump. Jump into the steamy B-movie, exploitation gospel pulp of it all, from the same filmmaker who took it upon himself to explain exactly how hard it is out there for a pimp with 2005’s Hustle & Flow. Jump for the fervent, wild-eyed corniness of the thing, the baroque psychosexual-racial titillation, the hoppin’ chutzpah of a movie that preaches the gospel of the old title tune by Blind Lemon Jefferson, made accessible to boys and men who mostly want to see Ricci’s peachies.

Heck, jump for the chance to see the slip-slim, saucer-eyed star — it’s been many days since she played Wednesday in The Addams Family — arch and moan and writhe with abandon, acting out sexual addiction as a fever of lust and emotional emptiness that entitles the camera to focus on her little white underpants. The picture would have been a whole other kettle of blackened catfish had Rae been played by an unknown, or a clothed chick. But that’s not what’s for sale here; showbiz is.

So jump — but be prepared to collapse into a hoot and a howl of hilarity at all the wrong moments, like when thunder rattles and Lazarus rises from his inner deadness through song and Rae clings to his leg and peers through the dark of her abused past into the light — a ray? Or when Ronnie returns with severe heebie-jeebies of his own. Or when another local sage prescribes, ”Ain’t no better [cure] for de blues than some good p—y.” Say amen, somebody? C-

Black Snake Moan

  • Movie
  • R
  • 116 minutes
  • Craig Brewer