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CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story DVD Review

CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Charles Stone III / Writer: Kate Lanier

Cast: Keke Palmer (Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas), Niatia "Lil Mama" Kirkland (Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes), Drew Sidora (Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins), Evan Ross (Dallas Austin), Rochelle Aytes (Perri "Pebbles" Reid), Donny Boaz (Bill Diggins), Carl Anthony Payne (Antonio "L.A." Reid), Brooke Shaine Montalvo (Crystal), Rico Ball (Andre "Bad Moon" Rison), Renell Gibbs (Larry), Ed Amatrudo (Clive Davis), Charles Stone III (DJ Voice), Ne-Yo (Himself), Chilli (Herself), Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (Herself)

Original Air Date: October 21, 2013 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: TV-14

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Movie Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: October 21, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Instant Video

Buy CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

Anyone with an interest in contemporary music and cable in the 1990s knows that TLC was a group you'd find on MTV, the hipper and younger-skewing of the two most prominent music television channels.
Now, at a time when both channels have almost completely moved away from music in favor of movies, reruns, scripted comedies, and reality television, it is MTV's sister station VH1 that brings us CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, a dramatization of the ups and downs of the chart-topping three-girl act.

Taking its title from the band's best-selling 1994 album, this 2013 broadcast is very much a throwback to TV movies providing behind-the-scenes looks at the often tumultuous lives of successful celebrities. Without actually having watched them, I assume it compares to the mid-Noughties Behind the Camera series of telemovies that touted the unauthorized nature of their depictions of the scandalous making of sitcoms like "Diff'rent Strokes", "Mork & Mindy", and "Charlie's Angels." In this case, though, the movie is very much authorized by the two surviving members of TLC, which ensures a flattering and relatively scandal-free portrayal.

The movie opens in Atlanta 1990, where Perri "Pebbles" Reid (Rochelle Aytes) is assembling a girl group for LaFace Records, "the Motown of the South" founded by her husband L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (Niatia "Lil Mama" Kirkland) and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (Drew Sidora) impress Pebbles with their enthusiastic audition. Their would-be third, however, shows minimal enthusiasm and talent, prompting Pebbles to replace her with Rozonda Thomas (Keke Palmer), a backup dancer who has been hiding her capable voice. She assumes the nickname "Chilli" so that the group can proceed to have their initials fit the planned name of TLC.

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (Niatia "Lil Mama" Kirkland), Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (Keke Palmer), and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (Drew Sidora) are excited to learn of their successful sales and new jeeps, but they'll soon want money.

As Mr. Reid (Carl Anthony Payne II) points out, this TLC has broad appeal. With Left Eye supplying the rap, T-Boz bringing a hip-hop sound, and Chilli offering R & B sensibilities and a pretty face, this "street but not ghetto" group is sure to succeed. And, as we all know, they do, starting with their single "What About Your Friends" and their debut music video for "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and taking off from there.

Success on top of success doesn't make for the most compelling drama, so screenwriter Kate Lanier (What's Love Got to Do With It, Set It Off, Glitter, Beauty Shop) tries hard to provide some conflict and adversity for these girls to overcome. Rozonda, for instance, is briefly suspended and reluctantly decides to abort her secret child with recording studio technician and life-long player Dallas Austin (Evan Ross). Left Eye has a not so secret drinking problem in addition to her bad luck with men, even seemingly gentlemanly fur-coated NFL stars. And T-Boz is diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia and given a life expectancy of about twenty years.

One source of professional conflict is treated at length: the girls are being taken advantage of financially. Pebbles starts each singer off on a weekly stipend of just $25 and doesn't seem to shell out much more even after the public embraces the band. No one will show them the terrible contract they've signed. The group looks for new representation after admitting backstage at the Grammys that they are broke. In the movie's best bit, and one that M.C. Hammer would appreciate, onscreen writing transcribing Left Eye's radio remarks explains how a group that sold 10 million records could actually be in debt.

T-Boz's (Drew Sidora) sickle-cell anemia diagnosis gives the movie some drama. Left Eye (Niatia "Lil Mama" Kirkland) treats herself to some much-needed spiritual healing in Honduras.

CrazySexyCool really plays up Left Eye's ongoing search for happiness, a mission that sees her turn down a $25 million tour to do spiritual healing in Honduras,
foreshadowing the tragedy that of course will function as kind of a climax. The movie goes further, ending with an upbeat recording studio reunion ten years later of T-Boz and Chilli. But while TLC may live on, the movie recognizes the story kind of ends with Left Eye.

The movie is pretty broad, relaying facts in the most obvious way. For example, Left Eye can't just act erratically; she has to actually be shown entering a studio with a beer in her hand. We're also supposed to believe that Chilli is absolutely irreplaceable, for everyone who auditions to replace her during her suspension looks hideous and can't carry a tune. Every character introduced has a purpose and there are plenty of montages along the way.

One thing CrazySexyCool deserves credit for is its excellent casting and for its remarkable ability to manufacture authentic-looking old video. The movie rarely shows the real band themselves, but its recreations are so convincingly styled you almost mistake it for real archival footage. It helps if like me your image of the group has faded with time (and was never all that vivid to begin with). Still, the filmmakers did an amazing job of casting actresses who with the right clothing, make-up, and sets look very much like the real singers. (Although Left Eye glaringly has her black stripe under her right eye in the post-Grammys scene.)

Other than that, the movie isn't terribly remarkable. You can credit it for not exaggerating the obstacles or overstating the group's achievements. The movie probably would be more interesting if it did either of those things. Instead, it's basically a diverting though not too polished trip down memory lane, one which benefits thoroughly not only from the use of the group's songs (with the actresses lip-synching) but also a few other era-establishing '90s pop anthems (Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" and Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart").

A year to the day since it first aired, CrazySexyCool finally hits DVD this week from Paramount Home Entertainment. Its feature presentation is marred in one significant way that I'll address in the following section.

How could TLC sell 10 million albums and be broke? Words write out Left Eye's ridiculous but true math.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is just about what you would expect from such a new TV movie. As mentioned above, the movie does a fine job of recreating the past with music video sets, 1.33:1 aspect ratios, and '90s camera technology. That's pretty solid effort from a class so notoriously frugal. When it is supposed to be, the picture looks appropriately sharp and clean, with nothing worse than infrequent compression artifacts arising.

Less commendable are the DVD's soundtracks, not because of technical shortcomings but a questionable creative decision. That decision was to mute all profanity. Whether you listen to the default Dolby Digital 5.1 or the alternate 2.0 stereo mix, you'll notice that all variations of the S- and F-words are silenced, as they must have been on broadcast. I don't have a problem with there being an option to get the censored soundtrack that aired on television. But to not have any way of watching the movie with the expletives intact seems really stupid and silly. Is this a movie intended for children? Even if it was, are we naive enough to think they don't hear these words or that their brains are too small to figure out with context and mouth movements what bad words are being said? If there were only a few scattered swears, this might not have been an issue. But the profanity flows at a surprisingly frequent rate, making this a distracting way to hear the movie.

Sadly, the DVD doesn't include subtitles, relying on closed captions that won't be accessible to those watching on an HDMI connection. And yes, the closed captions omit the profanity too, using ellipses and brackets.

Surviving group members Chilli and T-Boz discuss having their life turned into a (VH1) movie in "The TLC Story." The real TLC is interviewed over the years in "TLC: In Their Own Words."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

CrazySexyCool is joined by three bonus features on DVD.

"The TLC Story" (5:02) lets leading cast members voice their attraction to the project and express their admiration for TLC, while the two surviving band members explain their hopes for the movie.

"Cast Interviews" (6:16) gives the actors more time to talk about this job, what it means to them, and, in Keke Palmer's case, the excitement of getting to meet the real Chilli.

Most exciting of the extras, "TLC: In Their Own Words" (27:32) compiles clips from the group's many interviews. They speak about a number of experiences loosely dramatized in the film (e.g. the Andre Rison house fire and Left Eye's illuminating industry math) and some that were ignored (like Jermaine Dupri's contributions). Arguably better than the film, this is one-third of the way to satisfactory feature-length documentary.

The static and silent three menus (no scene selection pages are offered) adapt the cover imagery and scheme.

No inserts or slipcover jazz up the eco-friendly keepcase, which erroneously rounds up the 105-minute runtime to a fairly epic 148 minutes.

Three young Atlanta women -- Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (Drew Sidora), Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (Niatia "Lil Mama" Kirkland), and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (Keke Palmer) -- form TLC in "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There is obvious appeal in CrazySexyCool for fans of TLC, but they'd be better served by a documentary. Though it features excellent casting and some truly impressive recreations, this movie doesn't have the subtlety and intrigue a film should. VH1 commits a pretty huge blunder by muting all the profanity as for broadcast on this censored DVD. That's simply one of many reasons to pass on this release.

Buy CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed October 20, 2014.



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