THE HUGHES BROTHERS' latest documentary, American Pimp, introduces the men who sell women on the street with a series of quick clips that show your average middle Americans saying things like, "Pimps? Aren't they those horrible junkies who disrespect women?" It's a cheap trick, really--but one that sets the stage for the rest of the film. Pimp intends to destroy stereotypes by contrasting middle America's misconceptions with the real thing.

But by the time it's over one does see the directors' basic point: Today's pimps are simply fulfilling a need, as common in the ghetto as golf is to rich white guys. And admittedly, the film accomplishes what it sets out to do; probing around underneath the grisly underbelly of America. Scene after scene shows pimps talking shop, explaining what happens when someone steals a pimp's girl ("knockin"), zooming in on their extra-long coke nails, and listening to their repetitive rhetoric: "A ho's a ho, you know? It's a once-a-month bleedin', pussy havin' ho. That's what she is. What else could she be?"

What the Hughes Brothers ultimately reveal is a specific vocabulary, skill, and set of values that are necessary to be a pimp. It's a choice few who are truly successful within this cutthroat business, and their values, it just so happens, deal in the commodity of bodies--pussy, specifically.

That said, with a subject like this, the Hughes are treading on very dangerous territory. After at least 30 minutes of Marvin Gaye songs and clips from the '70s flick The Mack (about a dork who metamorphisizes into a pimp), the film finally gets around to asking, "Why do prostitutes need pimps?" But even then, it glosses over the question, relying mostly on quotes from the pimps themselves, who say things like "Well, hos just can't handle their money by themselves. I need to do it for them." An obvious misconception, but one that goes unchallenged because we never really hear from the hos. Herein lies the most interesting question of the whole subculture of pimps, but since the film is so largely focused on the pimp exclusively, it's one that goes unanswered.

American Pimp is educational, certainly, but also overwhelmingly disturbing, both because of the mentality it documents, and for the questions it chooses to ignore.