Terrence Howard’s raspy, snarling voice counters his boyishly charming good looks and lends his performances unique gravitas; he was good in a problematic role in Paul Haggis’ racist, lame-brained Crash, and he’s excellent in Hustle & Flow, in which he plays DJay, a philosophizing two-bit pimp who reaches for hip-hop stardom when local superstar rapper Skinny Black returns to town. DJay is an angry character, stuck in the ghetto’s hopeless rut, and when Howard raps about the humid travails of ghetto pimpdom on the movie’s catchy, crunked-up soundtrack, we feel DJay’s every bead of sweaty desperation. But director Craig Brewer squanders Howard and the rest of the capable cast by forgoing warm moments for a reality-TV-ish how-to-make-a-rap-hit procedural; when DJay’s girlfriend Sugar thanks him for including her in a song, the movie hits a tender note that it fails to reach anywhere else. And when the fatuous denouement excuses — and rewards! — prostitution and violence, all we can say is that pimpin’ ain’t shit: it’s watching good actors like Howard frittered away in faulty movies that ain’t easy.
Opens July 15