review for Hollywood Shuffle on AllMovie

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
by Brian J. Dillard review

This indie underdog mined the discontent of black Hollywood for parody and laughs earlier and better than Keenen Ivory Wayans's I'm Gonna Git You Sucka! or Spike Lee's Girl 6. Less lightweight than the former and less muddled than the latter, Robert Townsend's directorial debut glorifies the power of the celluloid dream machine even as he interrogates the ways it shortchanges black performers and audiences. Despite its richness, though, Hollywood Shuffle isn't an altogether successful film. The numerous movie spoofs, from escaped slaves and undead pimps to soul-brother action heroes, tend to run on longer than they should. The jheri-curl jokes have dated poorly, while the pervasive homophobia is all too typical of post-Eddie Murphy African-American comedy. Hollywood Shuffle remains a vital piece of filmmaking, however, because its broad humor is leavened with sympathetic characters and considerable vitriol. An accomplished supporting actor by the time he made this film, writer/director Townsend clearly knows the Hollywood system he skewers. He therefore saves his funniest and most barbed jokes for his portraits of condescending casting directors and back-stabbing fellow actors. Such performers as Starletta DuPois, Helen Martin, Anne-Marie Johnson, and David McKnight lend dramatic heft and real poignancy to the script's ideals-vs.-paychecks conflict. The picture's shoestring budget may show in every frame of borrowed film, but such production constraints only add urgency to Hollywood Shuffle's message.