Because the killer cliffhanger from Part 1 demanded a sequel
In 1988, the world was Robert Townsend's fly girl. After spending what seemed like oblivion stuck in less than supporting roles in every manner of movie and TV show, he had finally come into his own. His scathing satire that skewered Tinseltown's cinematic stereotyping of actors of color, Hollywood Shuffle, was basking in the glow of critical and public praise. He parlayed that success into the gig directing then mega-superstar Eddie Murphy's next comedy concert film, the soon to be legendary Eddie Murphy Raw. HBO also approached him about doing a series of comedy specials for the cable network and Townsend leapt at the chance. But instead of creating a Dangerfield or Klein style introduce and mini-set piece standup outing, Townsend and friend, co-conspirator Keenan Ivory Wayans, decided to showcase African American talent of all types: comedians and comic actors, soul singers, and street poets. Townsend also peppered the presentations with filmed skits, mocking everything from genre clichés to soap operas. He called his shows The Partners in Crime. Perhaps the most memorable of all of these outings was when a then unknown MC Hammer was first introduced to the American viewing public. His pelvis-pushing dance moves had Townsend shouting a constant stream of "one more time"s and thus began the rap icon's steady climb to 1990's "U Can't Touch This." It was an interstellar moment for a then virtually unknown performer. But that was Townsend in his day: able to launch careers and pay back friends for years of loyalty.
Partners in Crime 2 is a variety showcase, a mixture of singing and shorts with standup comedy that, frankly, needs a little less window dressing and a lot more manic humor to be completely successful. As the packaging proclaims, this was before Def Comedy Jam and before Comic View or In Living Color. Translation? It was still trying and testing audience acceptance. This 50 minute show features only a scant 10 minutes of actual brick wall buffoonery: the rest is taken up with soft slow soul jams and a few cute, but not necessarily clever or chaotic, film pieces. Indeed, the cowboy spoof How The West Was Won…Maybe simply reinforces the brilliance of Mel Brook's scathing Blazing Saddles and the soap opera segment really overstays its welcome. At three or four minutes, it would have been killer. But The Bold, The Black, and The Beautiful goes on for close to ten, and by this time, the jokes are played out, the satire is shot, and the potential payoffs have petered out. Similarly, the talk show parody is, by 2003, so tired and tame that it couldn't possibly get any laughs. Still, one does have to accept Townsend's skill as a director and performer. The pieces are impeccably made, and the actors really try to sell the material they are given to work with. But what's missing is edge. Nothing in these segments challenges stereotypes or presses buttons. While this is not intended as an insult, the truth is that there is no black perspective to these forced farces. Caucasians could have created them, they're so cautious and non-confrontational.
That being said, the standup comedy is exceptional here, for what little we get of it. Even the usually annoying Sinbad gets off a few good riffs before retreating backstage. But the show really belongs to Franklin Ajaye and Damon Wayans. Both introduce curse words into the, up until then, non-blue humor review. Indeed, the use of rough language seems to surprise everyone. When Ajaye first drops the f-bomb, you can hear a collective gasp from the audience, as if they are judging whether to accept this bold tactic from the talent. But once he's into his groove and landing shizz-its and GDs, he has the room by the funny bone. Wayans too understands the necessity for salty slang. Without it, his rants would be toothless. While his "gay bashing" routine may reek of pre-90s political incorrectness, it's still interesting to watch a man who many now consider to be a sitcom star working in his original element. Townsend would have been better off allowing these fabulously funny men a chance to really get the audience going, to turn their small samplings into his own original Original Kings of Comedy. But no, he wants room for movies and music, and with the exception of a badass Kool Mo Dee kicking it really old school with an electrifying version of his hit "Wild Wild West," the remaining vocal talent is tepid. Only the gospel-tinged finale (featuring a full choir) builds up any excitement.
Urbanworks Entertainment seems to be doing a decidedly good deed by unearthing old African American comedy specials and obscure motion pictures and releasing them on DVD. They have done a fairly decent job with Partners in Crime Vol. 2. Not that there isn't room for improvement. Visually, the full screen video presentation looks old. It doesn't have the sparkle of something specifically remastered for the digital realm, and while there is no flaring or halos, the second generation VHS look doesn't make this a vast improvement over other video versions. What does sort of work here is the simulated Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Using crowd noises and laughter to fill out the channels, there is some sense of immersion and an overall nice theatrical feel to the aural antics. As for extras, we get a flimsy filmography that skims over Townsend's career. But then UE presents a good 15 plus minutes of comedy concert and celebrity roast trailers that really liven up the package. All the comedians here are funny and fresh and even in one minute plus ads for their titles, they come across as absolutely hilarious. Also intriguing are the Shaquille O'Neal Celebrity Roasts that seem to be putting a hip-hop spin on the old Dean Martin star skewering genre. It's just too bad that the tame take that Townsend puts on everything dampens the potential for delight in Robert Townsend's Partners in Crime: Vol. 2. While still an important footnote in the careers of many of today's talented, well known black artists, it just won't make room for the truly funny elements to shine through.
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