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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Which Way Is Up?
Which Way Is Up?
Universal // R // May 21, 2002
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Dvdempire]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 19, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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A quick skimming of Richard Pryor fansites turns up nothing but praise for Which Way Is Up?, and Eddie Griffin, while promoting John Q, cited it as the only comedy he'd take along if stranded on a desert island. Still, this movie seems to be little more than a footnote in Pryor's career. Take Brewster's Millions, the second Richard Pryor movie Universal is releasing on DVD on May 21st, for instance. Users of the Internet Movie Database have submitted 2,050 ratings for the film. By comparison, Which Way Is Up? has a paltry 68 votes under its belt, scarcely a third of one percent as many.

Loosely based on Lina Wertmüller's The Seduction of Mimi (available on DVD from Fox Lorber), Which Way Is Up? is about a fruit picker named Leroy Jones that loses sight of what's important when he finds success in sex and corporate politics. Leroy (Pryor) is forced of a backwater town after becoming involved with a farmworker's union. leaving his wife, cantankerous father Rufus (also played by Pryor), and family behind. While attempting to eke out a living in the big city, he stumbles upon a cute young woman named Vanetta (Lonette McKee) who strives to educate the public about the plight of migrant farm workers. Leroy uses his momentary involvement in the movement to romance her, and Vanetta obliges on the condition that he not ever sleep with another woman again -- not even his wife. Take a wild guess as to what happens later in the movie. Anyway, Leroy's reaction to a botched assassination attempt on a union leader catches the attention of company executives, who give him a more prestigious position in his hometown, mistress and bastard child in tow. At first, Leroy does his damndest to keep his promise to Vanetta, and his sex-starved wife becomes increasingly desperate. She turns to her spiritual counselor, the Reverend Lenox Thomas (yes, played by Pryor), but receives more than guidance. She's pregnant, and Leroy's revenge for Annie May's infidelity threatens to cost him what little he has left.

Which Way Is Up?'s biggest claim to fame is that Richard Pryor tackles three different roles, nearly twenty years before Eddie Murphy was propelled back to stardom by doing the same in The Nutty Professor. Pryor's feat isn't quite as impressive as it may sound. None of the characters are particularly funny, and only Leroy appears for any appreciable amount of time in the movie. Rufus is a minor supporting character, and the Reverend gets all of three minutes of screentime, tops. Seeing Leroy's demure wife decked out in a dominatrix get-up or Leroy mistaking an electric toothbrush for a vibrator make for a few laughs, but the humor overall is pretty dismal. Its R-rating could easily stand for "Raunch", but the vast majority of the language and sexual situations seem almost tame a quarter-century later. I'm sure Pryor was anxious at the time to show the world that he was capable of more than PG successes like Silver Streak, but Which Way Is Up? understandably seems to have gone by unnoticed.

Video: The twenty-five year old Which Way Is Up? is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I'd imagine that the presentation here trounces every previous home video release, and there aren't any significant flaws worth noting. Crispness and clarity are pretty good, though certain darker portions appear more than a touch too murky. Speckling is not in abundance, and there isn't any intrusive grain or edge haloing. An average effort for a relatively obscure catalog title.

Audio: As is the case with Brewster's Millions, Which Way Is Up? features an unremarkable Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. The range of the audio is rather limited, even lacking any punch when a piano slides across a trailer and slams into Leroy. The dialogue remains discernable throughout, and there wasn't any overbearing hiss or crackling that caught my attention. It's not demo material to be sure, but the audio is acceptable given how little it's given to do.

Supplements: The only extras directly related to the movie are brief production notes and biographies for Richard Pryor, Lonette McKee, Margaret Avery, and Michael Schultz. There is also an option to sign up for a DVD newsletter, as well as recommendations for two other Universal titles featuring Pryor, Brewster's Millions and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

Conclusion: Which Way Is Up? may be well-liked by Richard Pryor's rabid fanbase, but it did absolutely nothing for me whatsoever. Though a number of retailers carry this DVD for $15 or so, I wouldn't recommend it as a purchase sight-unseen. Which Way Is Up? is slated to air no fewer than nine times on Black Starz throughout the month of June, and it's worth giving it a look first before dropping fifteen bucks.
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