|Richard Pryor Collection, The (Which Way is Up?, Brewster’s Millions, Car Wash, Bustin’ Loose)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 07 February 2006|
This four-movie collection of Richard Pryor films leaves a lot to be desired both in terms of overall DVD quality and transfer quality. There are absolutely no special features whatsoever here and the collection is rather an odd grouping, with only “Brewster’s Millions” being a film of much note.
“Brewster’s Millions” revolves around Pryor’s mediocre minor league baseball player, Montgomery Brewster, who suddenly inherits $300 million on the condition that he can spend $30 million in one month without attaining any assets. John Candy joins in the fun on this one and the most interesting thing is to see just how Brewster actually spends the money. There are some annoying sound dropouts from time to time in this film and the reel changes are horribly scratched. Also, considering that this is the most recent film of the four, having premiered in 1985, the quality of the image is dull, washed out and looks more like it came from 1935.
In “Bustin’ Loose,” Pryor plays Joe Braxton, an ex-con who has been given a second chance. He has been hired by a fiery and loving school teacher (played by Cicely Tyson) to repair and drive an old school bus full of troubled youth across the country where she can place them into her own center for endangered children. To add to the burden, each one of the eight kids has some sort of emotional or psychological problem. Joe is forced to accept the job or go back to jail, so he reluctantly agrees, but ends up bonding with both the teacher and the children. This is a decent film in its own quiet way and, of the four, perhaps relies the most on Pryor’s comic abilities to keep it afloat.
“Car Wash” is a quirky ensemble piece that revolves around a day in the life of the employees at a Los Angeles vehicle cleaning business. Customers come and go in what amounts to a string of sometimes funny, sometimes dull cameos by the likes of George Carlin, Lorraine Gary, the Pointer Sisters and others. Pryor here plays the money-hungry preacher known as Daddy Rich. Steve Harvey has often been seen imitating this character as an homage to Pryor, who apparently based his performance on an actual Los Angeles-based minister.
Finally, Pryor plays three different roles in “Which Way is Up?” something Eddie Murphy emulated in many of his roles, most notably in “Coming to America.” In this film, Pryor plays a poor orange picker named Leroy, Leroy’s father and the local Reverend. Leroy is fired when he mistakenly joins the worker's union during one of their demonstrations. Forced to leave his wife and family behind, Leroy travels to Los Angeles, where he coincidentally finds a job with the same company from which he lost his job back home. Though Leroy grows to prominence in the company, he is ostracized by many of his friends, since he has joined the ranks of the oppressive managers. Leroy returns home to find that his wife has been impregnated by the local Reverend Thomas (also played by Pryor) and takes his revenge by seducing the Reverend’s wife. Pryor is the absolute best here as the father, whose foul mouth and irreverent attitude make this both the funniest and most shocking of the four films.
It is difficult to say that any of these films has held up particularly well in the 20 to 30 years since their releases, but they do all have important elements. Pryor often played roles where he was downtrodden, abused and/or down on his luck. In each role, he pulled himself up in some manner, whether it be through hard work, affection for others, underhandedness or just plain luck. In this sense, the films are interesting and still relevant social commentary. A lot of the humor is probably lost on today’s generation and the sheer look of age in the films, mostly in terms of the quality of the film stock and transfer, will keep those who’d be interested in this collection a small crowd. Had I been asked, I would have put “Brewster’s Millions” together with “Stir Crazy,” “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “The Toy.” The second and third films joined Pryor with Gene Wilder, and both men seemed to truly excel comedically when they worked together. But alas, it was not to be.
There are no bonus features to speak of on this collection, essentially the type of collection DVD that you find in the $5.99 bin at Tower Records. One can only negatively assume that Universal is looking to capitalize a bit on Pryor’s recent death. None of the transfers are particularly good either, resembling the sort of scratchy brown mess that you see broadcast sometimes on USA or AMC. There isn’t even any consistency to the presentation of the films. They all have poorly rendered two-channel mixes in English, but one of the films also has a Spanish track and another film has French, while the other two settle for English only. All of the reel changes are full of dust and marred by ugly scratches, the sound tends to drop out in one speaker or another from time to time (I checked it on three different systems, so I know the flaw is in the DVD), and there is absolutely no reason that they couldn’t have found all four trailers or cobbled together some sort of short featurette about Richard Pryor.
The copyright on this particular DVD is 2006, but there is little if anything done to make this anything new or exciting. Pryor’s work was always stylish in his own way and these films deserve better than the treatment they’ve received here.