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Foxx’s exuberant performance highlighted in ‘Ray’

Brandon Hollihan | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The most admirable quality of the film “Ray” is that it makes Ray Charles more available to recent generations – a group that witnessed the gifted musician at the tail end of his life.To the latest generations, Charles was the man with the humorous cameo in “Blues Brothers.” He starred in a Diet Pepsi commercial which spurred a famous tagline. There was also a clear connection made between him and Stevie Wonder, another musician whose music seems inaccessible at times. Altogether, director Taylor Hackford’s biopic – a work that took 15 years to finish and included Charles’ collaboration – is a complete look at how the blind Georgia native rose to fame. Hackford lays out his film as if he almost intentionally wants it to rest upon the shoulders of its star, in this case Jamie Foxx. Foxx has gone from “In Living Color” and being criticized for making fun of the Backstreet Boys to becoming one of Hollywood’s top male actors. Foxx won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charles, and he deserves it. He also was nominated for his role in “Collateral.” His Charles is delightfully easy to fall in love with, as we watch him overcome the odds to break into the business. He charms us with a huge grin at whatever night club or concert hall he may be playing.By comparison, we hate Charles every time we see him struggle with drugs, particularly with heroin. This is one of the movie’s main themes, and it reverberates so heavily throughout the film that it becomes a little burdensome. The story contrasts Charles’ ascending fame with his declining character. It’s a good idea, but the character is in such a rut towards the end of the film that the story must quickly jump to conclusions. The result is a two-and-a-half hour film without any real resolution.The story and the acting, however, are great and make up for any flaws in the plot. Of course Foxx is impressive, but kudos as well to Curtis Armstrong for his portrayal of Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun, along with as Harry Lenix as Joe Adams, who served as Charles’ concert MC and business confidante. Sharon Warren is also quite memorable as Ray’s mother, depicted as a devoted woman who refuses to see her son succumb to his handicap.The extras in the “Ray” DVD are decent. There are 15 deleted scenes, the best ones being Ray singing with a group of Marines on a bus and Foxx ad-libbing a few lines with Lenix. The extras also have full-length versions of a couple of musical selections from the film, as well as a tribute to the deceased Charles. The main attraction, however, is a segment detailing how Foxx stepped into his role and has footage of Charles and Foxx working together before the former passed away. It’s a fascinating clip in which viewers discover how diverse a performer Foxx has become.Based on the film’s box office receipts, there were quite a few people unable, or unwilling, to catch this film during its theatrical run. If you missed “Ray” in theaters, you can rest easy knowing that the DVD delivers and gives any Ray Charles fan enough fun to leave them satisfied.