This ambitious but unfocused Richard Pryor vehicle has all the raunchy humor one would expect from his standup material, but none of the warmth or heart. As a result, Which Way Is Up? is one of his weakest screen offerings. The problems begin with Carl Gottlieb's script, which has a depressingly mean-spirited (and often misogynistic) tone and offers up a disappointingly simplistic take on worthwhile satirical targets like unions, organized religion, and big business. The script further suffers from shrill, one-dimensional characterizations that lack the human element needed to flesh out the story. The worst of the bunch is the supposed protagonist Leroy -- a lazy, gullible, cowardly liar who is driven purely by lust and greed. Director Michael Schultz keeps things moving at a steady pace, but shows little of the colorful flair that he displayed in films like Car Wash and The Last Dragon. On the plus side, the film has a slick R&B-styled score by Motown veteran Mark Davis, and Pryor gives the material his all (the funniest bit arrives when he tries to seduce the reverend's wife in a rickety trailer). However, the occasional bright moment can't triumph over the film's unfortunate combination of crude storytelling and sour humor. Thus, Which Way Is Up? can only be recommended to hardcore Richard Pryor fans.
by Donald Guarisco review