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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Which Way is Up? (1977)

"Get that whip and that other chain there and follow me on into the kitchen."
- Rufus Jones (Richard Pryor)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: May 20, 2002

Stars: Richard Pryor, Lonette McKee, Margaret Avery
Other Stars: Morgan Woodward, Marilyn Coleman
Director: Michael Schultz

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corporation
MPAA Rating: R for language, adult situations
Run Time: 01h:34m:07s
Release Date: May 21, 2002
UPC: 025192195624
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- DC+C- D

DVD Review

From its quirky beginning to its dismal ending, Which Way is Up? is the most random series of events I have seen in a long while. When it was over, I found myself asking: What in the world was that all about? I suppose a laugh-out-loud comedy does not need much of a story line to succeed; it just needs to be funny. Unfortunately, I sat through the majority of this movie stone-faced and silent.

Whether the film is about the dangers of corporate bigotry, the pitfalls of adultery, or boldly spouting racial slurs, I am not really sure. My confusion is mainly due to the fact that all of these elements zip back and forth between one another with no semblance or cohesion. It is if the filmmakers have desperately tried to create a 90-minute film out of 20 minutes of material. From what I can figure, the purpose of the film is strictly for the sake of showcasing Richard Pryor's comedic talents, which most often do not shine here. That is not to say he does not have his moments.

Pryor plays a trio of roles and does so quite humorously on occasion. My heartiest laughs came from his over-the-top performance as Rufus Jones, the elderly father to main character Leroy Jones (also played by Pryor). Yet, however funny Rufus is, he has much too little screen time to make an effective comedic impact. Ultimately, Pryor's three characters do not possess a sense of individuality, and they all seem, well... like Richard Pryor. The comedic juggling act of tackling multiple roles was handled much better by Pryor's understudy, Eddie Murphy, in Coming to America and The Nutty Professor.

Which Way is Up? is refreshing and exuberant the few times that Pryor exhibits his inherent comic flair, yet through most of the film, it appears as if he is sleepwalking. In particular, the intentionally humorous scene where Leroy is chasing after a healthy jogging woman had me wondering about Pryor's real-life physical status rather than any onscreen comedy. At its worst, the film's nasty and biting undertones are downright obnoxious. There are countless times where various women are referred to as a "bitch" by their male counterparts, and the use of the "N" word gets to be too much. More than anything, the movie is boring due to its lack of narrative flow. It is simply one failed joke after another. There are funny moments indeed, but not enough to compensate for the film's shortcomings, or even warrant a spot in the comedy genre. Which Way is Up? is an ironically fitting title for a movie that has no sense of direction.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks its age, yet I was impressed with the apparent remastering effort. There is an abundance of film grain, specks, and dirt, yet these deficiencies add to the raw nature of the presentation. The scenes that take place outdoors display bold colors and a strikingly smooth characteristic. It is the many interior scenes that appear problematic; shadow delineation is particularly muddy and colors are unbalanced. Transfer artifacts such as edge enhancement seem to be kept to a bare minimum. The picture is far from reference quality, but it has been preserved to mimic the original theatrical presentation as well as I might expect.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original monaural soundtrack is the only audio option, and it serves the film well. Though the action remains locked in the center channel, the sound breathes spaciously enough as to not sound too claustrophobic. The funky music displays a decent amount of kick, yet it is severely wanting in fidelity. Distorted dialogue is the soundtrack's major problem. In addition to sounding strident, it is unnatural and often plays out of sync with the actors' mouths. The inclusion of the unaltered theatrical mix is noble, but I shudder to think that this was the best they could do back in the 1970s.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only available extras are production notes and a section containing biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew. With the production notes running no more than 100 words, I am wondering why they even spent the time.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

While I found Which Way is Up? to be nothing more than an aggravation, Richard Pryor fans will certainly be happy to find that Paramount has done an honorable job in restoring the film.


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