I take a look at Mariah Carey’s attempt at feature film stardom.
Billie Frank (Mariah Carey) is the daughter of a 70s nightclub singer who gets put in a foster home after her mom lost her job and burned down their house with a cigarette. She grows up with her friends Louise (Da Brat) and Roxanne (Tia Texada), eventually becoming backup singers and dancers in 1983 for producer Timothy Walker’s (Terrence Howard) new project Sylk (Padma Lakshmi). Due to Sylk’s lack of talent, Timothy uses Billie as the lead vocals on Sylk’s tracks. Soon after, at a nightclub, DJ Julian “Dice” Black (Max Beesley) plays Sylk’s new track, but, when Sylk insults Billie, Billie reveals that she’s the actual singer behind the song. This leads Dice to want to sign her. He approaches Timothy, who agrees to a price of $100,000 for the three girls’ contracts.
Billie and Dice start working on songs and quickly get Billie a contract with a major label. They also start sleeping with each other, then move in together after her first song becomes a hit. After a few months, Dice refuses to pay Timothy the agreed-upon $100,000, leading Timothy to threaten Billie. Dice then gets arrested for attacking Timothy at his studio and starts to become a jerk as Billie becomes more popular, leading Billie to break up with him. Billie collaborates with another artist, Rafael (Eric Benét), and produces another hit. She starts writing another song at the same time that Dice does. When she goes to his apartment while he’s out, she realizes the song she’s writing goes perfectly with his melody. She kisses his music sheet before leaving to sing her big performance at Madison Square Garden. Dice returns home and sees the lipstick, giving him hope that they can work it out. However, while heading to the concert, Timothy shoots Dice and kills him. Billie finds out right before her concert and performs the song she wrote. She also finds a message from Dice saying he loved her and telling her where her mother was.
This was selected at random from the IMDB bottom 100, where it’s listed as number 21. You’d think I’d be happy that there were 20 lower-rated movies on the list, but, having seen many of the bottom 20, I can say that at least most of those films are so bad that they’re usually unintentionally hilarious. This movie wasn’t so bad, it’s good; this movie was so bad, it was stunning. When a film is so bad that it’s good, it’s because someone put a lot of effort into an idea without any kind of talent or knowledge of how to make the idea work. This film does not ever give me the feeling that effort was involved.
Part of it is that this movie seems only interested in hitting specific generic points in the plot, not of making us care about the characters or giving them any kind of personality. It happens right from the beginning and never really deviates. The film starts with a young Billie singing in a club in the 1970s along with her mom. The mom gets fired and goes to Billie’s dad for money, only for him to want nothing to do with Billie. Then her mom falls asleep with a cigarette and burns the house down, leading Billie to go to Foster care, where she meets her future friends. Despite how much of this could easily have been used for emotional development or character development, it feels painfully hollow. It’s not just that the dialogue is almost entirely pointless exposition, it’s that every single scene is short and just trying to hit a beat so they can move on. There’s a poem by Stephen Dobyns that begins “Each thing I do I rush through so I can do something else.” I feel like Vondie Curtis Hall, the director, considered that the motto of shooting this. The movie makes you feel like it just wants to get itself over, and the audience is going to feel likewise.
The dialogue in this movie isn’t just bad, it’s “I forced a bot to watch 10,000 hours of college one-man shows” level incoherent and cliche-laden. They don’t try to be clever, they just say the subtext out loud, ranging from Sylk telling a photographer “they’re just backup, they don’t matter” as a way to establish she’s a diva to a post-coital Billie saying “I don’t ever do this.” There is just absolutely no subtlety to be found in the film.
It doesn’t help that only three people in this movie seem to have any ability to act: Terrence Howard, Da Brat, and Tia Texada. They actually try to give some depth or gravitas or even humor to the terrible lines they’re delivering. Of course, they’re also the three characters that have the least screen-time, making sure that we get plenty of time to hear Max Beesely deliver some cliched tripe in what he thinks is an American accent. Mariah Carey would get a pass for her lackluster performance due to not being an actress if I hadn’t seen other singers manage to bridge the gap in the past. What’s even more shocking is that the two have absolutely no chemistry together, making it even more surprising when, less than five minutes after she’s assuring her friends that she’s only going to a business dinner with him, and less than three minutes after he says it’s not a date, he asks her up to his place. One brief playing of the Marimba later (yeah, that’s his smooth move), and they’re having brief off-screen sex. They’re then implied to be extremely happy until he suddenly goes from zero to jackass in time for the third act conflict, but really, we don’t see anything charming between the two.
It doesn’t help that the tragic ending of the movie is just so stupid. Throughout the entire film, Timothy is shown to be hounding Dice for his money, but… he’s not actually in the wrong. Dice approaches Timothy with both parties knowing that Billie is the real talent. Because of this, Timothy requires the high price of $100,000 to get Billie out of her contract. Later, Dice refuses to pay anything to Timothy because he said the deal was bull. But… he agreed to it. And he’s since made a fortune off of Billie. Also, Dice is consistently shown to be one of, if not the, most famous DJs in the country and he lives in a huge 2-3 story loft in downtown Manhattan. He could easily have paid the money BEFORE Billie got huge, but he refuses to even after Timothy starts to confront Billie over it. Instead, Dice tries to attack him physically. It’s A) insane that Timothy doesn’t just sue him and B) insane that Dice doesn’t just pay him the money, or at least SOME money, that he promised him.
Overall, this movie isn’t just bad, this movie makes Gigli look good. At least that film was trying something different. This one is just trying the same “rags to riches” story without doing anything new. I will say that it probably suffered because it was released 10 days after 9/11, but nothing could have saved this film.
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