It's been entertaining to watch Ice Cube and Mike Epps pair up for a string of amusing urban comedies, such as "Friday After Next" and "All About the Benjamins." Not stellar movies mind you, but passable comedies with big laughs and a laudable aim towards silliness. "The Janky Promoters" is their latest Hope and Crosby effort, but the chemistry is askew and the jester roles have unfortunately been equaled, resulting in a middling effort that should've been far more energetic and inspired than it actually is. Cube and Epps want a rap-world farce, but the film is winded from the starter pistol.
Russell Redds (Ice Cube) and Jellyroll (Mike Epps) are two Modesto, California concert promoters desperate for cash to pull off their latest show. Bringing rapper Young Jeezy and his entourage into town, Redds and Jellyroll scramble to cover their debts, taking money from loved ones and drug dealers to pay for the concert, putting themselves in harm's way when they can't follow through on their promises. With showtime fast approaching, everything has gone wrong, leaving the frantic promoters to cover their behinds when Young Jeezy revolts, threatening to take their hip-hop promotion dreams with him.
Written by Ice Cube, "Janky Promoters" feels exhausted, unable to mobilize any excitement for itself. It's a lethargic urban comedy reliant on the golden exchanges between Cube and Epps to keep it afloat; however, there's one small problem: Ice Cube wants in on the funny too. Normally a straight man to Epps's Tasmanian Devil shtick, "Janky" makes Cube an equal partner in the laugh department. The balance is thrown off by this insistence, now submitting two leads on the hunt for punchlines. Director Marcus Raboy is overwhelmed by his options, and instead of managing the chaos, the filmmaker instead lets it all pass by without much concern, allowing Cube's lackluster scenarios free reign to bomb, while the two stars compete nervously for laughs.
Ice Cube is not a comedian. He's more of a brute who reacts well to Epps's thick-tongued, improv-heavy malarkey, generating his own smiles through stone-faced disapproval. "Janky" has Cube in joker mode as well, overstuffing the wacky quotient of the movie. A simple story of two hustlers desperate to keep themselves in any state of business, Cube plans out a series of halfhearted encounters for Redds and Jellyroll, who stumble across crack-slinging grandmothers, cuckolded cops (Glenn Plummer), and Young Jeezy's height-challenged manager on their way to monetary salvation. These are ripe situations of prime comedic discomfort, but Raboy and Cube fail to offer much beyond the basic routine of threats and stuttery improvisation, wasting any potential for guffaws on ill-timed performances and general gracelessness.
There are parts of "Janky" that deal with rap star demands and venue anarchy that will surely make this a hip-hop "Spinal Tap" to a certain audience. Also, the film is obsessed with cracking on Modesto for jokes, which rules out nearly 99% of the potential viewership -- the picture makes the city look like the armpit of California. Poor Modesto.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Janky" was never intended to be a vibrant motion picture. Filled with sun-drenched California locations, the DVD maintains the lightly blown-out look of the cinematography, which holds back colors from achieving any sort of prominence. Skintones are natural and black levels are under control. Concert sequences bring a change of pace, with bright lighting cues and performance textures. It's a mild viewing experience, handled proficiently on a mild-looking DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is filled out with tinny beats and heavy bass thumps, giving the track some life in the score department. Performance sequences retain a pleasant theater echo, with some surround activity encouraged by crowd atmospherics. Dialogue is occasionally difficult to pull out of the mix, with soundtrack selections often bleeding into the exchanges.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
There's a simple recipe to "Janky Promoters," but it's barely tended to, resulting is a glum, largely humorless feature film that aspires toward a comedic pitch that should've never been placed in the hands of Ice Cube. Mike Epps, sure. But Cube is best bewildered, not fitted for clown shoes.