Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Richard Pryor
Director: Richard Pryor
Audio: English Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: None
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2002

“Jo, I can’t change anything. But I can take you through so that you can see it.”

Film ***1/2

It is clear to about everyone in the human population that Richard Pryor has long been the funniest man alive, and with every success comes pitfalls of different sorts. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, Pryor’s first stab at directing an actual feature film (he also directed his concert movie, Richard Pryor: Here and Now), is a unique journey into the life of a fictional comedian that is somewhat based on Pryor himself. He has stated that the movie is not his biography, though many of the events in the movie will no doubt resemble certain things that the comedian has experienced, most notably his near death experience following a drug-related accident. Whether based on truth or not, this is certainly a noble movie experience nonetheless, with a journey that is well worth the ride.

The film opens with the title character, played by Pryor, rushed in a gurney into a hospital emergency room. As doctors begin to observe his condition, Jo Jo’s alter ego pulls himself out of his body, looks down at what’s become of him, and says to it, “Jo Jo, what have you done to us this time?” What then follows, as the alter ego exits the hospital is a journey through Jo Jo’s life for a look at the events in his life that led up to his current condition. It serves a much useful purpose, which is for Jo Jo to accept a will to survive and live again, the memories must remain and never die.

We get a glimpse of his life from his days as a young boy growing up in Ohio. He lives with his grandmother, who runs a whorehouse, which leads induces early knowledge of sex and booze. Later, when his mother has married again, tension is developed when he declares his future is to become a nightclub comedian and nothing more. That infuriates the mother’s husband, who orders Jo Jo out of the house. Soon enough, he does find himself at a local club, surprisingly turning an embarrassing first performance into one to remember as he flawlessly impersonates a baby being born. During the nightclub portion of his life, Jo Jo encounters numerous characters, including a stripper named Satin Doll (Paula Kelly), who is the one responsible for getting Jo Jo his first gig. There’s also the stuttering, boozy Arturo (Art Evans) and veteran trouper Johnny Barnett (Billy Eckstine). There’s a standout moment when Jo, fearing that he won’t receive any payment for performing, whips out an obvious starter pistol and threatens his boss for some pay.

Following those scenes are more characters who enter Jo Jo’s life, mainly the frequent amount of women who entered his life. He soon finds himself with no less than four wives as a result of the constant touring as well as all of the power and money that he has acquired, not to mention an addictive access to drugs, which soon enough take control. In the end, we do see how Jo Jo got into his current position in the hospital, which is quite heartbreaking to witness even as the alter ego attempts to stop Jo Jo from causing it to happen.

Anyone who cherishes to the genius of Richard Pryor should owe it to themselves to view this funny, and deeply moving biopic. What has become a remarkable career in the realm of comedic entertainment has resulted in a much poignant film.

Video **

Columbia Tri Star has not been issuing many state of the art transfers with most of their early catalogue titles recently, but my guess is that it has simply been hard to transfer the washed out film stock to the digital format, but every once in a while, it will happen. The picture quality of Jo Jo Dancer couldn’t quite achieve the status of a knockout presentation, with the image turning up mostly soft and never too sharp. Instances of grain will pop up every now and then, in addition. One primary reason for this was CTS’ decision to issue the disc in a double sided format, including both the anamorphic widescreen version, and the full screen version as well.

Audio **1/2

This Mono track may rank as one of the best ones to date, but then again, its only mono. Columbia Tri Star issues a serviceable Dolby Mono track for a film mostly made by dialogue, but does include some nice sound quality with the soundtrack, particularly the opening and closing theme song by Chaka Kahn, and most definitely the poignant montage scene backed up by Marvin Gaye’s classic, What’s Going On. All in all, a bit of nothing is turned in to a bit of something.

Features (zero stars)



Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling is a most intriguing recount of events based on the life of perhaps our most beloved comedic entertainer, and a remarkable journey of a film as well.