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Worth A Look: 11.76%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 41.18%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 11 user ratings

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Five Heartbeats, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"Five whole heartbeats ... and no pulse."
2 stars

For years I'd heard that The Five Heartbeats was a scrappy, sincere, and heartfelt little musical drama. Remind me to track down everyone who said that and ask them what the hell they were thinking, because this is one of the lamest, limpest, and most aggressively maudlin cliché-salads I've seen in years.

Imagine the soapiest, sappiest, corniest "Motown Band Biopic" confection you can think of, pack it with unconvincingly lip-synched and tonally inert musical sequences, characters afforded precisely one character trait apiece, dialogue that borders on the insipid, and a directorial style that looks, sounds, and feels like a toothpaste commercial. That's Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats -- only subtract the "biopic" part, because the Heartbeats never existed -- nowhere outside of Townsend's overwhelmingly simpering screenplay, that is.

The plot's precisely what you expect, point by isolated point: It's 1965 and the Heartbeats are a bunch of inner-city nobodies. Poverty, parents, and juvenile delinqency may conspire to keep the five pals downtrodden, but it's their collective talents and dreams of stardom that lift them out of the mean streets. Then they get famous and cocky, do a whole bunch of things they shouldn't, and eventually a few predictably tragic things happen, which (oh so gradually) explains the pointless framing story that sees star/writer/director Robert Townsend with gray streaks, sitting in a rocking chair, and gazing out at the ocean wistfully and dreaming of hazy nostalgia.

Yeah, it's that kind of movie. A scene in which the Heartbeats' first song is performed by an all-white group feels like it was pulled directly from a very lame episode of Saturday Night Live; keep in mind while you watch this scene that The Five Heartbeats is NOT trying to be a comedy, and that's when you'll start to notice the slipshod tonal shifts that Townsend employs while desperately aiming to pad his screenplay with every cliché under the sun. The Five Heartbeats goes from light dramatics to limp comedy schtick to maudlin emotional exhibition to simplistic social issue pandering with no sense of consistency, style, or sense.

And the actors certainly don't help matters. Aside from Townsend's own perpetually cartoonish performance, there's Michael Wright's hilariously overwrought overacting, the virtually complete inpetitude of Leon Robinson's eye-rollings and line-readings, and Harry J. Lennix ... actually, Harry manages to smoke these guys out of every single scene. Even with a distressingly one-note character to work on, Lennix displays a steel-eyed intensity that makes the rest of the Heartbeat boys look like a bunch of community theater rejects.

We never really get to see the defining moments of the band's success story, which is both odd and stupid. Material detailing their immediate reaction to hitting the big-time is delivered in music-montage method, yet huge chunks of running time are dedicated to side characters, subplots, and aimless tangents that add nothing to the Heartbeats main story. (One of the original band members gets replaced, and this information is imparted to the audience by way of a magazine cover.)

The charitable might be tempted to describe The Five Heartbeats as wholesome and well-intentioned -- but so is a 6-year-old who just crayon-scrawled "I love cookies" on the living room wall. Take the director's Hollywood Shuffle out of the equation (which is a frankly funny and fairly brave little satire) and Robert Townsend is the directorial equivalent of that crayon-toting six-year-old. And The Five Heartbeats is his self-adored masterpiece.

( © Review reprinted from DVDTalk, with permission from the author (me) and the DVDT management. For the full DVD specs on this particular movie, please visit and get friendly with the search bar.)

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originally posted: 02/13/06 23:15:29
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User Comments

3/13/15 hamid i very like to see this movie! I was child in year 1991 5 stars
2/20/10 brian Every cliche in the book, none of them convincing. At least the music's good. 2 stars
10/28/09 LaTaisha I am n luv wit dis movie fa real!! 5 stars
8/29/07 tiff I love the songs 5 stars
5/04/07 nikki this is my favorite movie of all time 5 stars
9/20/06 Keshia This is my favorite movie! 5 stars
6/10/06 Jesika This movies is a great movies. 5 stars
4/19/06 dominca i definetely loved this moie!! one of my favorited 5 stars
3/08/06 Carolyn Rathburn It was a realistic movie 4 stars
2/20/06 Tanya I thought it was great entertainment 4 stars
12/09/05 B Prendergast Great rendition of 60's Motown 5 stars
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  29-Mar-1991 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jan-2006



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