Artisan // 1998 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 31st, 2003
30 Dates in 30 days...all in the name of...research?
Keith is an upwardly mobile black man living in Manhattan. When he loses his job as a writer for "The Voice," he is forced to come up with a saleable idea or find himself in financial despair. While discussing his deteriorating love life with a couple of friends, he hits upon the idea of answering all manner of personal ads. He thinks it will expose him to why some people choose such a seemingly desperate way of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. His old employer loves the idea, and so our undaunted date machine begins the process of wining and dining -- and dissecting -- his near three-dozen potential conquests. He runs into all types, from a straight out of Brooklyn Ebonics queen to a disabled ex-college basketball star. Throw in a ravenous Star Trek fan, an assortment of the truly weird and wacky, and an elusive phone friend who seems to see right through our suave lothario, and it's a month of unsatisfying discoveries and unmitigated disasters for our investigative romantic. In the end, Keith must face his own womanizing ways (he was also trying to juggle two girlfriends during his multi-rendezvous roundup) and learn there is more to life, love, and relationships than making that booty call and successfully getting Hook'd Up!
Poor Hook'd Up. First, it must bear the shame of having its much more urbane original title -- Personals -- overthrown by the bozos at Artisan/Barnholtz Entertainment for a far more urban (and misleading and borderline racist) slang term for making a date. But then it has to go and wallow in the same ludicrous stereotypes that probably prompted the round the way name change in the first place. True, for about forty minutes, Hook'd Up manages to avoid the gratuitous ghetto grift and seen-it-all-before character sketches that the title and this type of film (the multiple date genre) tends to suggest. It really works as a witty, sophisticated film about life and love in the big city. Malik Yoba makes for an interesting, if rather joyless, leading man. He is able to be suave and scummy at the same time. But around the time our anti-hero wakes up to find his apartment being cleaned by a possessive Puerto Rican tartlette who just doesn't take a hint, the movie starts to misfire. It introduces preachy predictable plot pawns like the opinionated "sista" who doesn't date "trifflin'" black men and the slam dunce street poet who breaks out her incense and peppermints before she puts on an impromptu "reading" and moves them around a screenplay in slap dash fashion, hoping to provide a little cinematic CPR. But the result is DOA -- dead on actualization, a film that wants to be an intelligent take on modern interpersonal relationships and the rituals of companionship shouldn't be this broad or brash. Any message attempted would merely get lost in the shuffle.
Obviously, writer/director Mike Sargent's main dilemma with the Hook'd Up/Personals film concept is having to create dozens of compelling, non over-the-top or cartoon female characters. Honestly, he is just not up to the task. There are a few success stories. A potential minstrel show misstep -- the crass princess from the projects who divas her way through Keith's first date -- is actually avoided since Sargent allows the actor and the individual she portrays enough screen time to actually make the performance and persona work. What could have been a tired, trite "talk to the hand" ho-rror show ends up as one of the movie's more enjoyable entries. Deliah Cotto's lovely Latin loon Veronica is also a winner, as she is given time to grow and develop as a three-dimensional being. But cardboard cutouts soon abound, like Sheryl Lee Ralph's all business baby daddy broker, the Goth rock sex slave Spider, or the hard drinking, blue streak cursing clown Katie (who arrives in full makeup). Each and all undermine any integrity the film or the setups had once created. Eventually, when the serio-comic tone of the film finally shifts completely over into the somber, the movie runs out of energy and limps along to its overdone, far too false start-stop conclusion. We just don't care anymore about what happens to the people populating the film. When the mysterious Leah, the voice behind the intriguingly intelligent phone messages Keith gets, is finally revealed, she's quite the non-event enigma. It's hard to understand why he falls so instantly head over heels with her (he dated prettier during his "research") and her motives and message are almost as shady as our hero's. With a dozen or so (no need for all thirty) well-drawn damsels in dating distress, Hook'd Up could and would have been a winner. It's an over-reliance on the cliché that finally cause this film to flounder and sink.
But the most culpable "playa" in this whole failed film project is the notorious nogoodnicks at Artisan. When originally released as a DVD package by A-Pix Entertainment, the disc contained a Making of Featurette, a series of deleted scenes, a commentary track by director Sargent, and even a blooper reel as bonus content (sadly, this version is now out of print). So how, you may ask, do the sinners at Art make their version of the movie a more viable digital offering -- besides taking the original title and twisting the tact out of it? What special added incentives do they offer to keep you from running to eBay and buying a used copy of this movie? The answer is quite simple -- NOTHING! ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. None of the A-Pix extras are here and, honestly, they would have provided some nice contextual explanations for this film: who made it, what were their ultimate goals and how well do they think they met them. In typical tightwad fashion though, all we get from the evil Edict entity is an acceptable full screen image and passable Dolby Digital Stereo. Oh, and they do give us a bright, colorful menu screen from which we can access the scenes and press play. But any information that would have helped shed some creative light on this eventually exhausted enterprise is nowhere to be seen or enjoyed.
As it stands, Hook'd Up is a missed opportunity, an attempt at intelligence surrounded by stale, stupid interpersonal pigeonholing. Skip these derivative dates before you find yourself stuck in the kind of entertainment "trouble" that no hangover remedy can cure or "morning after" pill can possibly purge.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R