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The Safe Sex Farce of 1997’s Booty Call Has Wisdom in Its Kink

The main refrain of “Can We,” the lead single of the Booty Call soundtrack from 1997 sung by the trio SWV and featuring the added voice of Missy Elliot, asks the catchy question of “Can we get kinky tonight?” It reinforces that request in the next line with the addition of “I got so many things on my mind.” Digested together, we get a playful anthem begging for eager participation and unprejudiced creativity for both courtship and consummation. Those very same two goals can be said for the film itself turning 25 years old this year.

With kink on the brain and a title like Booty Call, the deviant wheels have to be turning to any who approach this movie. Just look at the poster and physical media cover of a double-voweled framed derriere. The imagined possibilities could get the coldest Eskimo hot and bothered. Yet, here in 1997 came Booty Call and all its many desirable pleasures preaching, of all things, safe sex over multiple movie orgasms of conquests and comedy.

Two friends look to each other on a sidewalk

Past the big name ahead of him on the marquee (we’ll get to him in a bit), the true lead of Booty Call was In Living Color ensemble standout Tommy Davidson. He played the upstanding Rushon, a proverbial unicorn in his urban neighborhood as a good man with a solid career path. For seven weeks (joked often into sounding more like seven years), he’s been dating the lovely Nikki, played by TV veteran Tamala Jones (Castle), without sealing any deals between the sheets at her chaste insistence. However, more than thermometers are poised to burst as the two definitely feel the urge to finally introduce intimacy. 

As a means of creating a little interference to delay any bedroom romps, Nikki sets up a double date as a way of not being left alone with Rushon. She invites her condescending and judgmental friend Lysterine, played by Vivica A. Fox at the peak of her drop dead gorgeousness. To counter, Rushon introduces our headliner Jamie Foxx. Tommy’s former ensemble comedy co-star is the ne’er-do-well and unsophisticated bad influence best buddy Bunz, the uncouth “common hood rat” the class-seeking Lysti has to deal with for the evening.

A woman smiles to laugh at her friend in the mirror as she adjusts her undergarments.

Thanks to his wiseacre mouth and unstoppable horndog energy, Bunz stirs every pot and springs every trap of trouble, and breaks nearly every decorum rule of his settings. Initial catty confrontations between Lysterine and Bunz turn into eyebrow-raising sheddings of inhibitions. Once their libidos collide, Rushon and Nikki find their own bottled desires ready to pop as well, but not before proper condoms are secured by both inflamed men. That’s where Booty Call constructs its one-wild-night obstacle course through New York’s Chinatown for prophylactics in hopes of carnal victory. 

In true ludicrous fashion, anything that could go wrong does as these two fellas are strung along by demand after demand to appease their ladies. Even as a 79-minute sprint of a movie, Booty Call launches a nearly interminable amount of chases, setbacks, and stereotypes. Some of the late-night encounters, several of which are set in a shady convenience store manned by two bickering ethnic clerks (Art Malik and Scott LeRose) and home to a great Bernie Mac cameo, still hold up as hilarious while others grate with dated racial insensitives (those clerks and Gedde Watanabe’s Chinese waiter shown earlier) that will certainly rub new generations the wrong way.

A man smiles at his scantily-clad girlfriend on a couch.

Long before cell phones, social media, and dating apps, Booty Call represents a unique time capsule. Relish in the silk fashions, loud colors, and more of that platinum-certified soundtrack which included a super-early Backstreet Boys appearance and Ginuwine’s “My Pony” fifteen years before Magic Mike would add to its coolness. On a larger scale, the 1990s were a different time where profane talk and frank sexual content was far looser, actively public, and more readily accepted.

That is unless you were actor Charles S. Dutton who railed at the public on The Charlie Rose Show for accepting this movie over more than serious fare like John Singleton’s Rosewood playing in the same February theaters. Rosewood was a fine film, but you could watch Booty Call nearly twice within Rosewood’s 142-minute running time. Escapism played better than an exhausting history lesson to the tune of $20 million in grosses over Rosewood’s measly $13 million. Sex sells and always has.

A woman in a bra raises her arms above her head in ectasy.

Booty Call boasts four committed stars who absolutely go for every zany bit. The amount of deft physical comedy in this movie is downright impressive. It’s more than faking moans in the throes of passion. It’s playing off each other and selling the moments no matter how preposterous. For the best samples of this, seek out the card-playing table scene of footsie or the dumbfounded use for plastic wrap later that escalated the comedy to uproarious developments that left audiences rolling in the aisles.

As soon as Foxx arrives, the show became all his every chance the cameras and microphones gave him. The script, sketched out by J. Stanford “Bootsie” Parker (The Hughleys) and Takashi Bufford (Set It Off), was very likely thrown out the window often to let the atomic charm of Foxx radiate and riff. For many, including this writer, Booty Call was the full release of the wide talent and attitude he was capable of after small best-friend and sidekick roles in The Truth About Cats and Dogs and The Great White Hype and a single season into his self-titled TV series. At 29, the potential was beyond obvious. He just needed bigger screens and would get them after this. 

A man smiles towards his blind date at a restaurant table.

Not to be undone, each supporting performer was given the bantering freedom to roll their jokes with his. Tommy Davidson was then (and is still now) an underappreciated physical comedian, where his bendable lithe frame makes for an expressive rubber band able to be twisted in all kinds of directions for emotional outbursts. Playing the constant Mother Hen voice of reason and prudery, this was to be Tamala Jones’ hopeful big break as a lead at the junior age of 23. Booty Call didn’t hit big enough for that, but her fetching presence has harvested a very steady career on TV ever since. 

Coming off a huge 1996 of Set It Off and Independence Day, Vivica A. Fox was quite the catch to play this movie’s equivalent of the vamp in disguise. Her capability to play a big personality ended up being a vital ingredient. She went toe-to-toe and skin-to-skin with the wildest swings of Jamie’s comedy and never faltered. A lesser actress who’s only a hot body would fade into the background to be no better than a silent blow-up doll.

Like a good sex farce, Booty Call knows the rug-pull power of anticipation. Keep the desired couples from the finish line of frolic as long as possible. Tantalize and tease. Get them close to culmination and then yank the triumph away with something humorous. Do that over and over until even the audience has a case of blue balls. That way, if or when the pursuing protagonists make it, interest and investment has been built taller than the hard-on of sexual frustration.

Above the Rim director Jeff Pollack’s movie landed two years before American Pie reignited the sex farce subgenre for a new surge. And yet again, here comes this one arriving early to preach patience and promote safe sex, concepts and pillars woefully ignored by the more popular stuff that came after it. If anything, by featuring grown men and women in the real dating game and not miscreant teens trying the scheme their way into each others’ pants in damn-near predatory ways, Booty Call comes off as wiser than most, even with its own outlandishness. 

The wisdom underneath the kinkiness extended into a refreshing underlayer of honest relationship discourse. Through all the hijinks, a balance and gentlemanly challenge is built between “slipping” or “being whipped” and the value and confidence that comes from pledging to one worthy partner. Demands are escalated beyond the sexual ones. When Nikki says to Lysti how “you don’t know that boy from a can of paint,” there is truth in making sure a bedmate isn’t only disease-free, but the right one for the next level of love. Sure-footed sense like that in Booty Call deserved better than a 25% Rotten Tomatoes score (which will rise with this publication). Seek it out on Starz to be amazed by Jamie Foxx and what sex farces today too often miss.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved and Banana Meter-approved film critic writing here on 25YL Media and his own website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the hosts of the 25YL-backed Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network. As a school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, Online Film Critics Society, Internet Film Critics Society, Independent Film Critics of America, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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