May 27, 1998
I have to admit I’ve never paid much attention to rapper turned filmmaker (I guess?) Master P. I say “I guess” because I GOT THE HOOK-UP is credited as “A MASTER P film,” but it’s directed by Michael Martin, a guy who directed some Outkast videos and the nearly unwatchable Snoop Dogg DTV movie EASTSIDAZ. P did write it though, along with Leroy Douglas and Carrie Mungo (who don’t have any other IMDb credits).
P grew up in the projects in New Orleans, studied business administration at a college in Oakland, and used money from a malpractice settlement related to the death of his grandfather to open a store called No Limit Records, which eventually turned into a record label of the same name. He released his first tape in 1990 and had five albums by the time he moved back to New Orleans in 1995 and built an empire with other rappers including Mystikal (currently on trial for rape) and his brothers C-Murder (now serving a life sentence for murder) and Silkk the Shocker (not accused of anything).
P’s mainstream breakthrough was the 1997 album Ghetto D, which went triple-platinum partly on the strength of the song “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!”, which is about making ’em say “Uhh!” Thanks to the success of the label and smart investing, at the time of I GOT THE HOOK-UP, P was #10 on Forbes magazine’s list of America’s highest paid entertainers. He had starred in and co-directed the straight to video I’M BOUT IT, with another one called MP DA LAST DON coming in December of ’98. I’ve never really looked into any of these things, but summer of ’98 hosted his first theatrical release, I GOT THE HOOK-UP, so I decided this would be a good time to try to figure out what was up with that.
P plays Black, a charming hustler who, with his short, constantly riffing sidekick Blue (A.J. Johnson, HOUSE PARTY, LETHAL WEAPON 3, MENACE II SOCIETY, PANTHER) runs a “shopping center” out of some rusty cars and vans in a parking lot in L.A. I’m unclear what their primary business is, but they have some clothes hanging up and we know they sell big, broken TVs and also milk. Somehow this seems to make them high rollers in the neighborhood.
Then one day Black receives somebody else’s delivery of Motorola phones, gets Blue’s brother (Anthony Boswell) – or possibly Little Brother is just his name – to put chips in them, and makes a deal to have sex twice a week with phone company insider Lorraine (Gretchen Palmer, WISHMASTER) in exchange for covering up his use of cloned numbers (or something). Then he sells phones to everybody in the neighborhood, tries not to get busted by a corny narc from the insurance company (Frantz Turner, SHORT TERM 12) and gets threatened by a gangster’s scary henchman played, of course, by Tommy “Tiny” Lister (BEVERLY HILLS COP II). Tiny’s boss Roscoe (the rapper Fiend) is only a voice heard over a speaker, like Charlie in Charlie’s Angels.
It’s not what I expected. It looks pretty polished. Back then you had to shoot on film, and I was surprised by the level of production design on that market.
P is definitely working in an area carved out by FRIDAY, so he has not only Lister, but a cameo by Cube himself (Blue calls him “you fat, Ice Cube lookin motherfucker.”) And John Witherspoon as Blue’s uncle Mr. Mimms, who pretends to repair TVs, but the back room of his shop is actually a personal strip club that he hangs out in all day.
But remember, FRIDAY had Craig getting ahold of a gun to try to solve his Tiny Lister problem and being taught by his dad that if you’re gonna fight you should do it with fists and not kill somebody. This is the opposite. Tiny pulls a gun on him so he pulls out two guns and acts like it’s the most incredible move anybody has ever come up with. This doesn’t have the storytelling of FRIDAY or the heart.
Much of the story makes very little sense, and it gets more scatter-brained and silly as it goes along. Like, there’s a big reveal that two white cops (one played by Joe Estevez, BREAKAWAY) are actually black guys wearing masks like V aliens. I never figured out why.
Snoop also has a cameo, just playing pool in one scene. That reminds you that it’s set it in L.A. and not New Orleans, which P was so proud to represent in most of his endeavors. Just making the movie where everybody else does makes it seem more mercenary and less like a pure Master P expression. But I guess at least it doesn’t look like the exact same locations that everybody else uses.
There’s a cross-dressing or transsexual character named Tootsie Pop (Harrison White, “Cop on SWAT Team,” SE7EN) and there are little people. Who are into S&M. And it freaks out some cops so bad they shoot one of them. There’s a fine line between Jamaa Fanaka style “these are the colorful people of my world” and “Ha ha, look at these freaks,” and I believe this is the second one. I say this mainly because of the extended joke about the insurance guy getting seduced by Tootsie Pop without realizing what sort of equipment he should be expecting down there. Tootsie plays it straight enough that I felt bad for her, but it’s definitely aiming for gay panic.
And of course there’s all kinds of talk about bitches and getting coochie and etc. There’s kind of a good cop bad cop thing going where Blue talks about bitch this and bitch that and Black is more of a smooth talking gigolo. He is pretty charismatic even though he’s a dumb ass. Lorraine smiles and laughs when she brings him to “that Japanese restaurant” and he acts like it’s weird and uses the chopsticks as drumsticks and keeps saying “cheeseburga” in a racist sounding fake accent, I think in reference to that John Belushi samurai character from SNL.
But easily the most offensive and “they definitely wouldn’t do that in a movie now” joke is a hitman character who’s supposed to be disabled. He has a handicapped placard on his bike which is covered in junk, and he wears a football helmet and has movements and a voice like something out of a speech that Trump would make and then deny even though everybody has seen the video of it. I suspect the character was inspired by the Damon Wayans character “Handi Man” from In Living Color. I should say that back in the day I had a friend who worked with disabled kids and he claimed they loved Handi Man because they saw him as a super hero who was like them. I continue to be skeptical of that but at any rate I doubt they would feel the same about this hitman character who tries to chase somebody but tips over and starts crying.
A good example of both the level of storytelling and of humor is that at the climax Tiny has Black and Blue at gunpoint and is about to execute them, but announces he has to take a shit first. They of course comically outsmart his henchmen and then roll his Porta-Potty down a hill. Sadly, there’s no shot of him wearing boxers with hearts on them. That would’ve been so funny because of his pants fall down ha ha.
Also there’s a part where Blue does pretend kung fu and moves his mouth out of sync from his voice like a badly dubbed movie. Yes, ripping off a fuckin Michael Winslow POLICE ACADEMY routine. Doesn’t get much lower than that.
So there’s a ton of bad humor in this, but I laughed a few times too. It actually reminded me a little bit of a Rudy Ray Moore film in that it has all these characters who seem like they’re probly just comedians doing shtick and going on tirades. For example the movie actually opens on a long shot of Nasty Mouth Carla (Tangie Ambrose, JACKIE’S BACK!) and Bad Mouth Bessie (Sheryl Underwood, BEAUTY SHOP) — or as Blue calls them, “the Ghetto Twins, Ugh and Lee” — pushing a TV down the street and talking about their pussies and stuff. Bessie hits on John Witherspoon: “I heard about you, man. Fucking all the young girls in the neighborhood. Ya need to get a old ho like myself. A bitch that can suck your dick and make biscuits from scratch.”
They’re just some customers who are angry about being sold a bad TV, otherwise they’re not important to the plot, but they get all this time to riff. Maybe they’re the R2D2 and C3PO of this movie.
And there’s a crazy scene where Black is trying to do business at the funeral of a gangster. Suddenly a lady (Izetta Karp, Granny from BLACK DYNAMITE) walks in and everybody gasps. Little Brother explains: “Oh shit, man. It’s that old bitch Miss Rose. She swore that if Barrelhead ever died before she did she’d spit in his coffin. As a kid, Barrelhead did some terrible things. He once broke in her house, stole all her appliances, pissed on her porch and shit in her house.” So there’s this weird little story about a brawl at a funeral that has nothing to do with anything. But it’s one of the best parts I think?
The comedic moment that impressed me most (admittedly a low bar) is when Black is on the phone with Lorraine talking about what he’s going to wear when he meets her for a date and Blue is with him, barking in his ear about things to tell her. And they clearly had him improvise a bunch of different lines, Apatow style, but instead of just using one they jump cut through six or seven of them:
“Tell her I have on some gym socks and a backstage pass from a Kool Moe Dee concert”
“Tell her I’ma be asshole-naked with some handcuffs and a whip. And a hula skirt. And a saddle on my back. With a big ass NFL hat on.”
The barrage of increasingly nonsensical shit makes it funny. I’ve never seen it done that way before but it totally worked. Outtakes in the actual movie instead of the end credits. Kind of a revolutionary technique I think.
The soundtrack is better than most of these ’98 movies because it’s not only No Limit shit – they use N.W.A’s “100 Miles and Runnin’,” Theme from SHAFT, “Pusherman,” Ice Cube, UGK, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and more.
I’ve been noting the dated technology and references in these summer of ’98 movies, and this has the biggest one because the whole plot revolves around cell phones being something that average people don’t have – it is sort of democratizing for Black to give them to people cheap. And the phones are flip phones. And Black always specifies that they are cellular phones. Although he usually pronounces it more like “cell’ar phone.”
I GOT THE HOOK-UP opened at #6 below fellow rapper BULWORTH in its third week but above the debut of the Christopher Guest directed posthumous Chris Farley vehicle ALMOST HEROES. Ultimately HOOK-UP made around $10 million, but it was a low budget movie (reportedly $3.5 million, about the same as FRIDAY) so especially after DVD I’m sure they made some money. The next year P wrote and co-starred in FOOLISH with Eddie Griffin, but that one did worse. Then he started having small roles in bigger movies – GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, UNDISPUTED (he’s one of the rappers that perform in the ring before the fight), HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, an episode of CSI: NY – while continuing with his DTV rapper vehicles like HOT BOYZ, LOCKDOWN and STILL ‘BOUT IT.
Then he co-created the teen sitcom Romeo!, which ran on Nickelodeon from 2003-2006. It stars his real son, already a No Limit rapper under the name Lil Romeo, and he plays the father. From what I’ve read it sounds like they’re playing themselves, except in the show they live in Seattle for some reason (filmed in Vancouver, of course). So (again, like Ice Cube) P started making family entertainment, such as UNCLE P (2007) where “Rapper/multi-millionair P. Miller becomes the guardian of his sister’s three children – all of whom need a father figure in their lives.”
My exposure to P’s music is limited to around the time of this movie, when Snoop Dogg signed to No Limit for three albums. Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told is an awkward mix of Snoop and crude No Limit style production and guest stars, but No Limit Top Dogg has some amazing songs on it, such as the Dre-produced “Buck ‘Em” featuring TV’s Blade:
Oh, and “Just Dippin'”:
This was when we were still waiting for The Chronic 2001, so this polished Dre style was mind-blowingly new. Now it’s old but still great. Tha Last Meal has a couple Dre tracks too, and I think it was pretty good, but I don’t remember any specifics.
I don’t think I would be into any other No Limit stuff, but if you want to make a pitch for one in the comments I will listen with an open mind. I have a feeling this is the best of the movies. It’s definitely no FRIDAY or HOUSE PARTY, so I’m good with just watching the one.
P.S. Apparently they’re make a part 2?
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.