With Mo' Better Blues, the story of a young trumpeter's rise to jazz-world stardom, Spike Lee set out to counter Clint Eastwood's cliché-ridden biopic of Charlie Parker in Bird. But the final product, a slick, glossy drama (with hip-hop jazz provided by Gangstarr no less), is just as superficial as the numerous Alger-esque stories of music stardom to which movie audiences are accustomed.
Denzel Washington gives a typically charismatic performance as the trumpeter in question, as does Wesley Snipes as his sax-playing rival. And as with most Spike Lee films, there are numerous solid performers in small roles such as Bill Nunn, Latin-music star Rubén Blades, and comedian Robin Harris. One character, however, attracted unwanted attention: John Turturro's role as an unscrupulous music-industry exec. Critics called the Turturro character, who is at once money hungry, swarthy, and perpetually shrouded in darkness, a classic anti-Semitic caricature. But the charge seems almost irrelevant in Spike Lee's cartoonish, overstylized world of impossibly hunky jazzmen, curvaceous hangers-on, and incessant bebop. --Ethan Brown
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