*½/**** Image B- Sound B-
starring Richard Pryor, Lonette McKee, Margaret Avery, Dolph Sweet
screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Cecil Brown
directed by Michael Schultz
by Walter Chaw An embarrassing Being There conceit married to blaxploitation and unionization, the Richard Pryor vehicle Which Way Is Up? strikes a lot of notes but without much rhyme or reason. It is offensive without being funny (save a bondage scene that pays off flat but has a hilarious use of sound) and excessive seemingly just for the sake of it. Pryor becomes a predecessor with this picture to Eddie Murphy's penchant for playing a bunch of loud-mouthed characters in different beards in stupid gross-out bits of celluloid rubbish...without the production values Murphy warrants. Director Michael Schultz's follow-up to such amusing counter-cultural flicks as Cooley High and Car Wash (recently re-imagined with Snoop Dogg's The Wash), Which Way Is Up? tracks the exploits of Leroy (Pryor), a fruit-picker who accidentally falls in with a Unionization movement that earns him a job in the city and some fine women. Can a wearying morality thread questioning the corrupting nature of power be far behind?
With its rambling narrative and distasteful themes, Which Way Is Up? seems a bad idea from the start. It looks for humour in a pathological disrespect for women and in the perpetuation of negative racial stereotypes without the wit to take its offensiveness from the casual realm of exploitation into the inspired realm of satire. The picture has nothing to say on the subject of gender and race relations (save how Pryor hates the former and unintentionally sells out the latter in his films), making it something at once odious and sad. The few moments in which Pryor demonstrates a spark make Which Way Is Up? all the more disappointing for its failures--a statement that could potentially be made of the comedian's entire cinematic oeuvre, with few exceptions.
Universal's DVD of Which Way Is Up?, released in conjunction with their DVD reissue of the Pryor comedy Brewster's Millions, comes with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that demonstrates a nice clarity given the age and cheap nature of the negative. Speckles, lines, and a good deal of grain mar the picture at certain points, but the colours (while muted) are reproduced with clarity and lack of bleed. All and all, the disc is a prime example of a nice job done with a flawed source. The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is clear and always intelligible; there are, as should be expected, no aural fireworks to speak of. Special features include a sparse text production notes section and very brief cast and crew filmographies. Originally published: May 20, 2002.
87 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 2.0 (Mono); English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Universal