Though Judge Bill Gibron usually hates it when performers air out their dirty laundry in public, he thoroughly enjoyed this fresh and friendly urban comedy.
Boughetto Comedy at its Best!
Kyle and Clem work for Mr. Keyes at the Tidey Whitey Cleaners in Oakland, California. Kyle is a failed amateur basketball player who now spends his days in the dogged pursuit of good times, good friends, and just a little bit of weed. Clem is a super-smart intellectual who stutters whenever he is frightened, or flustered. Together, they are lifelong friends who always "got" each other's "back." As they open the shop for a typical day of dry cleaning and commiserating, their routine turns from usual to the unusual. A blind man walks in and claims discrimination, the boss's wife thinks Clem is a closet transvestite, an overweight woman believes the business purposefully shrunk her clothes (making her appear fatter in the process), and a Hispanic lothario strips to his skin, hoping the boys can get the scent of adultery out of his clothes. With trash-talking junk men, a follower of Farrakhan who preaches against the white devil as he smooches with his Caucasian sweetie, and an ex-girlfriend wandering around, these two many never find a way to get their customers' garments So Fresh, So Clean. Indeed, they may be too busy getting their respective asses out of a world of trouble.
Sometimes in the critic biz, you stumble across something that sends out "waste of time" warning signals from the minute you view the cover art. There is a level of amateurishness that seeps out from the keepcase and you're just sure that what waits inside is something insipid, dull, and without any redeeming entertainment value. Upon first glance, So Fresh, So Clean feels like such a stumble. From all appearances, this urban comedy is a first-time effort for many involved. The plot description is loaded with out-of-date street slang (including the potent combination of "round the way hijinx" and the classic "baby-mama-drama") and the cast includes performers with names like Speedy, Rip the Playa, and JDub DJon (?). Suddenly, it hits you—this is going to be another one of those overripe slices of hip-hop horse hockey claiming to be clever but only proving that anything's funny when conceived on Chronic. In the never-ending parade of rappers being risible, certified stool samples like Livin' tha Life and Da Hip Hop Witch have more or less proven that, as performers, most urban criers and singular street poets are about as hilarious as a drive-by.
So imagine his stunned surprise when So Fresh, So Clean actually turned out to be a well-intentioned, occasionally inspired ghetto groove. Not really as funny as it thinks it is, but definitely engaging and wonderfully inventive, this African-American Clerks may be short of pop-culture riffing, but what it lacks in knowing references, it more than makes up for in colorful, creative characterization. As our leads, Red Grant (who made somewhat of a splash with his homemade Family Reunion film) as Kyle and Sadiki Fuller as Clem have an instant chemistry and immediately win us over with their obvious odd couple personas. Individually, they are given moments to build and broaden their roles, and by the end, we wish we could see more of this pair's wild and winning adventures. Sure, some of the people they run into are as tired and clichéd as the set-up insinuates (an adulterous Latino loverboy, a wannabe "wigged"-out white guy) and the jokes are often lost in endless improvising and ad-libbing, but for something that could have been as painful as searing abdominal gas, this manic motion picture is an above-average joy to behold.
As co-director of this effort, screenwriter Al Attles III takes a clothesline approach to the narrative. What this means is that the entire dry cleaning set-up is just an excuse for vignette-like takes on the Nation of Islam, fake playas, crazy cops, and large doses of your basic bathroom humor. There is an entire scene involving Grant, his digestively distressed boss, and the smelliest bathroom in the history of cinema that illustrates some of Attles's errors behind the camera perfectly. Sure, somebody with rancid farts can be very funny and, when taken to extremes, the laughs are usually side-splitting, but Attles keeps pushing it, coming back to the reeking restroom again and again and again. There must be four separate scenes of our hero attempting to contact his odiferous employer and, after the first two times, the joke becomes boring. Similarly, characters that are introduced with specific idiosyncrasies (a fat security guard who needs subtitles to be understood, an overeducated black man with a tendency toward intellectual malapropisms) are allowed to consistently let their quirks overstay their welcome. While the nearly two-hour running time lets us enjoy the interaction between Grant and Fuller, there is definitely too much movie here for what is supposed to be a crazy, chaotic comedy.
Still, what we end up with is so genial and so genuine that it's hard to hate. Indeed, most of So Fresh, So Clean plays like a clever pay-cable sitcom or a wicked Web series. It doesn't demean its characters, and even throws in a little meaningful moralizing along the way. In its debut on DVD, Warner Brothers distributes this low-budget offering and gives it a decent digital presentation. The non-anamorphic letterboxed presentation offers the shot on DAT image a faux-film quality and the overall transfer is soft and sometimes fuzzy. The colors appear to be heightened by a little post-production magic and there are several animated elements added to the film as between-scene title cards. Overall, the visuals here won't win any awards, but they do make for a decent, professional presentation. On the sonic side, So Fresh, So Clean has a soundtrack overloaded with rap, hip hop, and pseudo-soul. While the Dolby Digital Stereo is more or less wasted here (no channel challenging tracks are offered), the dialogue is always easy to hear and the conversations are clear.
In the bonus feature department, we get over 40 minutes of "making-of" material. Attles III and his producer pal Lila Polite are vehement in their defense of this film and they argue strongly for its originality, creativity, and authenticity. We hear the wounded war stories of first-time filmmakers facing rejection and constant reminders that writing is the primary step in getting one's movie made. Along with a music video and some Web links, this is a decent digital package with enough clarifying content to explain some of the movie's more oddball elements. While this film only manages to truly live up to half of its title (there are curse words aplenty here), So Fresh, So Clean is not so-so, or so bad, it's good. In truth, this is an engaging and enjoyable slice of ghetto life.
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