Review: ‘The Five Heartbeats’

Convincing only in its sweet and dazzling musical sequences, this overly sincere effort otherwise misses its mark. Counteracting the negative black stereotyping he lampooned in his directorial debut, Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend lays out a parade of positive role models in a clean, upbeat family-oriented entertainment that feels oddly square and unauthentic.

Convincing only in its sweet and dazzling musical sequences, this overly sincere effort otherwise misses its mark. Counteracting the negative black stereotyping he lampooned in his directorial debut, Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend lays out a parade of positive role models in a clean, upbeat family-oriented entertainment that feels oddly square and unauthentic.

Story begins in 1965 when fictional group the Five Heartbeats begins to emerge among other black pop groups then combining harmonies and slick choreography. Film follows the bouncing ball through the paces of every mediocre musicbiz story ever told, from talent contest to record deal to shoestring radio support tour, racism, hit single, media blitz and superstardom.

Script renders characters in the big ensemble cast as little more than types, with a constantly shifting focus and no one to really follow, and Townsend’s vision and direction are wildly schizophrenic, veering from tragic depths to manipulative, heart-tugging poignance.

Townsend seems most at home with the music, and there are scenes onstage in which the film really hits its stride.

The Five Heartbeats

Production

20th Century-Fox. Director Robert Townsend; Producer Loretha C. Jones; Screenplay Robert Townsend, Keenen Ivory Wayans; Camera Bill Dill; Editor John Carter; Music Stanley Clarke; Art Director Wynn Thomas

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1991. Running time: 122 MIN.

With

Robert Townsend Michael Wright Leon Harry J. Lennix Tico Wells Diahann Carroll
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