The Five Heartbeats

Four years after his hilarious satire (Hollywood Shuffle), writer-director-actor Robert Townsend returns with an impossibly ambitious movie about an African American R & B singing group (Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon, Harry J. Lennix, and Tico Wells) between 1965 and the present, scripted with Keenen Ivory Wayans (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). The results are a long and unevenly realized chronicle of friendship that is teeming with subplots, unusually candid about the harshness of the music business, and generally packed with energy. The women in the cast (including the commanding Diahann Carroll, as well as Troy Beyer, Theresa Randle, Tressa Thomas, and Deborah Lacey) unfortunately aren’t given much to do, but there are striking performances by John Canada Terrell as a singer who replaces one of the original members, Chuck Patterson as the Heartbeats’ manager, Harold Nicholas (one of the celebrated Nicholas Brothers) as their choreographer, and Hawthorne James as the villainous record executive “Big Red.” (Biograph, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, Hyde Park, Norridge, Ford City, Harlem-Cermak)

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