Review: 'Black Snake Moan' electrifies 

Having given us a woman-friendly pimp in "Hustle and Flow," writer-director Craig Brewer further challenges the belief system with his new melodrama, "Black Snake Moan," which asks us to embrace a protagonist who aims to cure nymphomania with a Bible and a chain. Fortunately, Brewer’s fantasyland is a humanist one, and its characters are emotionally true. If you’re willing to immerse yourself in the swamp, what transpires therein can be affecting as well as ridiculous.

The film’s a pulp fairy tale set in the key of the blues in small-town Tennessee. Samuel L. Jackson plays Lazarus, a musician-turned-farmer whose marital woes have left him bitter and destructive. Christina Ricci plays Rae, an abused young woman whose traumas have turned her into a sex fiend who’ll screw any guy she encounters, even though her heart lies with her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake).

Lazarus takes an unorthodox route to redemption when he discovers a beat-up Rae on the road, heals her, and, informed that she’s the town tramp, vows to cure her of her "wickedness." This involves an exorcism of sorts: chaining Rae to the radiator, reading the scripture and singing the blues.

Exploitation indeed runs thick as Ricci’s Raewrithes and runs on her tether in her panties for extended periods. This element nearly brings down the film. At other times, things play like overbaked formula. That’s the case when Ronnie falsely accuses Lazarus of sexually violating Rae and threatens him with a gun. But between such problem areas, Brewer delivers a compelling, moving story of affliction, connection and resurgence.

At one Brewerish point, a thunderstorm accompanies the electric vibes of Lazarus’ guitar. The Rae-Lazarus interactions, which are sexually chaste but emotionally sizzling, and become unfettered and tender, are oddly touching. The end is sweet and a wee bit kinky.

Jackson and Ricci are superb even when their material’s ludicrous. He’s poignant as well as powerful, and convincing as a blues man. She’s rivetingly feral in the early scenes and, later, captivating as a wounded child. She also sings, touchingly.

Timberlake doesn’t sing, and he plays the dimmest character, but, as plot devices go, he’s fine.

Black Snake Moan **½

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson

Written and directed by Craig Brewer

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

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