The Five Heartbeats Review

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Having started a band, five friends come up with the name The Five Heartbeats. They soon begin to tour but as fashions change so does their style, taking in, R'n'B, Rock & Soul, Gospel and all other different styles of music. Although their journey takes many in many highs it also has many lows, including the death of one of the members.


This tuneful comedy drama of a band’s rise and decline comes from those Hollywood Shuffle bright sparks Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans. It died a horrible death in the US, a fate it did not deserve.

True, its mood shifts from near-parody to murder, from brotherly love to tragedy are not always accomplished with finesse, and it has large portions of the corn and cliché that are staples of the showbiz movie. Nevertheless, much of this tale of five bonded-for-life buddies — whose musical journey takes us from street doo-wop and 60s R&B through rock ‘n’ soul and 70s funk to a gospel accompanied funeral some 20 years on — is lively and entertaining.

The band itself comprises the usual mix of characters in a Temptations, Four Tops kind of way in Townsend’s earnest composer Duck, Leon’s ladykiller JT, Wright’s self-destructive bad boy lead singer Eddie, Lennix’s staid bass Dresser and Wells’ Choirboy, the ministers son who sings falsetto, all of them nicely played and plausibly capable singer/dancers.

It’s all here: the racist humiliations on the road, the crooked record label exploitation, the shocking suits, the gold discs, magazine covers, flash cars, drugs and furious fallings out. There are disarmingly ingenuous, funny scenes like Duck and his soul-wailing baby sister devising a hit song in their pj’s, and the saga is enlivened by good little touches like men protecting their “dos” by sleeping with pantyhose on their heads, and the weed who does put wadding down his stage trousers. Loved the choreography.

The real problem with The Five Heartbeats is that it tries to do too much. Whilst being an amiable musical, it also wants to be a road movie, comedy and tragedy. Although What's Love Got To Do With It succeeded in combining all these, this is not quite worthy of the comparison.