Get ready to be rocked to your soul by The Five Heartbeats! This Motown-flavored masterpiece is the story of five young friends drawn together by music. Their dream of success takes them from amateur nights in ghetto clubs to the pinnacle of show business success and personal tragedy.
Few things can be more noble than a wholehearted effort to tell the story of black secular music in America, especially through the eyes of a mid-20th century rhythm-and-blues vocal group breaking through race barriers to popular success. Comedian and filmmaker Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats
(1991) is one such ambitious effort. If its story frequently sags under epochal burdens, the film makes up for it with a surprisingly tough look at the music business and classy appearances by Diahann Carroll and hoofer Harold Nicholas. Townsend plays one-fifth of the titular act, whose collective life and times we follow from 1965 to the 1990s, through friendships, break-ups, and re-groupings. The director's script, cowritten with Keenen Ivory Wayans, is wobbly and short on good material for the women in the cast. But several of the male actors are quite strong, particularly John Canada Terrell as an original Heartbeats replacement. --Tom Keogh