- User Rating: Very Good
Pros:choreography, comic bits
Cons:paint-by-the-numbers meteoric rise, exploitation, drug devastation; second-rate songs
The Bottom Line: Strangely dull account of soul-singer-group pretty easy rise and standard corruption/fraying of bonds forged in the 'hood.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Robert Townsend is a very likeable, unthreateningly funny guy. He wrote himself a sympathetic character to play as the songwriter ignored by the ladies in “The Five Heatbeats,” a 1991 movie about a fictional R&B group of that name, that bears a strong resemblances to the Temptations. Leon (Cool Running, Little Richard) played the talented, troubled, troublesome David Ruffin in “The Temptations” (1998), but played the sex addict Heartbeat, while Michael Wright (Streamers) played Ruffin (called Eddie) herein.
Many times while watching the movie I asked myself why I didn’t just watch “The Temptations” again; it definitely had better music (the Heartbeats do cover “Same Old Song” and Jennifer Holliday does “Amazing Grace,” along with a song each from other models for the Heartbeats: the Dells and the Delfonics) and a more poignant David Ruffin. Afterwards, I realized that one possible answer would be: “For a happy ending.”
I realize that “Ray, “Dreamgirls,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” and “The Temptations” (just to mention black musician films) were all in the future in 1991, but they were in my viewing past before “Heartbeats.” Predatory record magnates, humiliations on tour in the South, ready availability of drugs, and burgeoning egos: I’ve seen them all before (and add the earlier “Lady Sings the Blues”). The song-writing with Townsend’s character’s sister (Tressa Thomas) seems out of a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney flick and the embarrassing scene of the fallen idol (Eddie) invokes “A Star Is Born,” though it takes place outside the theater (in contrast to the scenes in both to “Star” and “Temptations”).
Still, I liked Townsend his circle (especially Leon as JT, Tico Wells as Choirboy, and Harold Nicholas as “Sarge,” the group’s choreographer) and I was impressed by the convincing malevolence of Hawthorne James as the villain “Big Red,” record producer determined to destroy the group if he can’t get them to abandon their manager Jimmy Potter (solid Chuck Patterson with Diahann Carroll as his loving wife).
Bill Dill admirably varied the hues of clubs and home turfs.
The DVD bonus features are of varying interest. The featurettes on the real singers (yes, the actors are lip-synching), the costuming, and ten minutes of the ingratiating Robert Townsend make me want to give the DVD a higher rating. The actors’ brief statements about their characters, the deleted scenes, and accepting an award in character add little.
It seems to me that running 121 minutes there was time for developing more rounded characters than the one-note ones on display, even if no attempt was made to provide any context (of the music business or the tumult of the long 1960s including “the sexual revolution”). Perhaps the movie seemed less hackneyed in 1991, but it’s not 1991 any longer… Since then, Leon has been great as David Ruffin and as Little Richard (though I wish he had gotten more great roles), and the promise of Townsend’s “Hollywood Shuffle” has not been redeemed, alas.
©2012, Stephen O. Murray
Read all 3 Reviews
Write a Review
Viewing Format: DVD