Who’s In It: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Gabrielle Union, Columbus Short, Cedric The Entertainer, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Eamonn Walker, Mos Def, Beyonce Knowles
The Basics: You know what Chess Records was? This amazing label that introduced the non-blues-listening world (a.k.a. white people in the '50s and '60s) to people like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James and Chuck Berry. You know what else? This group biopic that acts like a serious version of Walk Hard should have been a documentary.
What’s The Deal: Come from nothing. Have a dream. Meet resistance. Struggle. Do your thing. Struggle more. Get noticed. Find yourself dizzied by montages of your records shooting up the charts and people going crazy for how amazing you are. Get totally famous and rich. Have lots of problems because now you’re totally famous and rich. Shoot up heroin. Go to prison. Waste your talent on drugs. Watch other artists rip you off and make more money. Repeat. Again and again and again. Do studios just tell the filmmakers, “You know all those other movies about musicians and their troubles? Okay go watch all of those and just make the same one. Look, here’s a script to one of them. Just change the names. It’ll be fine, trust us.”
Hey Cedric, Do A Little More Entertaining And A Little Less Narrating: The entire movie is guided/squeezed lifeless by the narration of C the E as Willie Dixon, Chess’s in-house songwriter. And because no one in charge trusted the actors to communicate their characters at all (because, you know, Jeffrey Wright, what a hack that guy is!), you get to hear Cedric say stuff like, “[Muddy Waters] was what every woman wanted and what every man wanted to be.” Then he explains racism. Not joking about that, either. Did you know the United States used to have racial segregation? Like it was the law and all? If not, maybe you should see this movie.
Best Stuff: Mos Def is a fun Chuck Berry. Probably because Chuck Berry was a fun Chuck Berry. And the final credits are awesome because there it’s explained how several of the Chess artists successfully sued people like The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin for stealing their songs. It’s pretty much: “And then my settlement check came in the mail. Ha-HA, JERKS! THE END!”
And She Is Telling You She’s Not Going: Beyonce is the executive producer of this movie so, unlike anyone else in the film, she gets to sing songs in their entirety. Oh wait, did I say sing? I meant to say OVERsing. She gets all the good heroin addiction scenes, too, and all the shocking 12-letter, R-rated swears, all the nasty sex talk, acting the heck out of that bleach-blonde wig. And first you’re thinking, “Wow, Etta James was a wild thing” and then you’re thinking, “Beyonce will not rest until she can have her own J-Hud-at-the-Oscars moment.”