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Jackie's Back


Jackie's Back

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Like a lot of young filmmakers, Robert Townsend peaked with his first and least expensive film, 1987's Hollywood Shuffle. A savage satirical attack on Hollywood's relentless stereotyping of minorities, that film seemed to portend great things for Townsend as an actor and a filmmaker. He followed with the successful Eddie Murphy concert film Raw, but in the ensuing years, Townsend's work has produced ambitious misfires (The Meteor Man, The Five Heartbeats), out-and-out duds (B*A*P*S), and a long-standing stint on The Parent 'Hood. Recently, Townsend has worked extensively in television, directing biopics of Natalie Cole and Little Richard, as well as Jackie's Back, a slight but amusing mockumentary about a diva (Jenifer Lewis) whose career sunk under the weight of bad relationships and dishonest managers. In a role seemingly based on Eric Idle's clueless documentarian from The Rutles, Tim Curry co-stars as a documentary filmmaker who attempts to chronicle Lewis' attempts at a comeback. Interspersed throughout are clips from her colorful and disastrous career, as well as an avalanche of celebrity cameos that look like they were generated by accosting celebrities at a benefit and asking them to improvise for a minute or two on camera. The roster of guest stars (Whoopi Goldberg, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Arnold, Kathy Najimy) is probably Jackie's Back's best selling point, but otherwise it's the film's weakest aspect. Under Townsend's affectionate, pop-culture-savvy direction, Jackie's Back mines the trashier aspects of several decades worth of black popular culture for modest laughs, and in Lewis, the film has a star with the larger-than-life presence of a top-flight diva. As played by Lewis, a former back-up singer for Bette Midler, Jackie is a little Cher, a little Midler, and a whole lot of Diana Ross, with whom she shares a girl-group pedigree and a doomed romance with a powerful Svengali. Jackie's Back could have been a lot sharper, but following the depths of B*A*P*S, even a comeback this modest is welcome.