Sunday, August 26, 2007

New Jack City

Price: 75 cents
Runtime: 101 minutes
Year: 1991
Director: Mario Van Peebles
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Chris Rock, Judd Nelson, Mario Van Peebles, Allen Payne, Bill Nunn, Michael Michele

"I need New Jack cops to take down a New Jack gangster" - Stone

This movie is pretty fucking silly, which may or may not have something to do with Chris Rock outacting (almost) everyone else in this movie, but certainly has something to do with the precise moment in time that it was conceived and executed. In 1991, this movie was not perceived as a joke, it was a fucking threat, motherfuckers were killing one another in the fucking movie theaters, for criswell! Its grotesque Disneyland-on-Crack underworld was seen more as a near future nightmare and less of the histrionic Batman Forever-esque carnival it now resembles most closely.

The problem stems from the very root of the title, "NEW JACK CITY." Teddy Riley musta been giving Van Peebs handies in his trailer or something cause this whole movie is kind of a giant sale-a-bration of the T-monster's domination of R&B circa 1990 under the whole New Jack Swing zeitgeist, which he singularly ruled as exquisitely as Keith Sweat's nasal passages would allow. In addition to the Sweatmonster's epic turn here as "Singer at Wedding", we are granted a New Year's Eve gala performance from GUY (Greasiest Underoo Yearling) and a lil side show of Levert with the slightest tingling sensation as only these guys

can service properly.

Now I am not laying a diss to all the NJS musicians above. I pump some Make It Last Forever in my tape deck on the regular and ginuwinely respect Mr. Riley's contributions to our world culture, "No Diggity" in particular, but for a movie as cold, bleak, and harsh as this one, it seems a little too fluffy and bouncy to serve as the prevailing aesthetic. Rap is alluded to with a Flav cameo, some Fab Five Freddy face-time, and the junky Ice-T track here and there, but in a movie where characters deliver lines like that one up top with straight faces, you need something that hits a little harder to underline your point. It's not like O-Dog was drive-by-ing to Boyz II Men or Bell Div Devoe (although he might sip out of a limited edition commemorative Taco Bell Biv Devoe cup if they run out of the Scorpions ones). I have the same problem with the melodramatic and overblown score to Boyz N Tha Hood, which sounds like it's on some Douglas Sirk shit everytime somebody decides to slow it down for a speech or some shit. So audibly, the whole thing is just left of center the whole time. And the whole thing is unbelievably heavy-handed and the conclusion for our big bad drug lord goes down, well, it is as unfathomable and outlandish as possible, ergo, brilliant. This is the rare movie where all the so-called flaws I may point out do nothing but serve to entertain and enlighten us viewers that much more. It is without flaw.

In addition to Chris Rock's bravura performance as troubled flipflopping crackhead with a heart of sterling silver, Wesley Snipes opens up his maw and consumes the rest of the cast whole in this movie. In addition to sporting the silliest haircut sported by a stone cold badass this side of

Brian "The Boz" Bosworth in the correctly titled "Stone Cold" as of '91 vintage (the best movie year, I think, I will argue this in full at a later date, fuck a '39)
Anyway, Snipes became the all-time champion here, this is his big break out, his definitive statement as a young actor on the up and up, his initial proposal to all the fine Asian women of the world to line up for some snipe hunting. Even though his role is written with all the subtlety and finesse of a cock sculpture rendered out of mayonnaise with a crowbar, Snipes proves that he is too large for your petty "words" anyway. With one smoldering vampiric glare, his whole character is embodied. It's kinda like Klaus Kinski in Aguirre or Nosferatu, the intensity and burning insanity behind the eyes. It's all in the eyes. Except Snipes has never claimed to fuck his daughter (yet).

Essentially, Mario Van Peebles is attempting to do here what his father did twenty years prior with Sweet Sweetback's BBBBBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDDDAAAAAAAA AAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS Song, carve out a cheap independent movie that offers a host of cheap thrills with a little message and gravy on the side. But whereas SSBS made no pretensions towards being anything more than an albeit excellent, but still pulpy, unrealistic, and OTT movie, Van Peebles the highlander takes himself very very seriously, even if no one else involved seemed to get the memo. The often corny script only really works when it goes into full YES I AM ON A STAGE AND THIS IS WHERE I SHALL ACT mode, such as Wesley Nino Snipes Brown's stunningly concise courtroom diss speech (as memorably, at least to me, sampled at the end of Immortal Technique's "Peruvian Cocaine"). But even though this sounds like I am griping, it's exactly these flaws that lend NEW JACK CITY its unique and compelling quality. It's like a black Scarface cliff notes with a heavy dosage of Graffiti Bridge cocaine ego set pieces and editing (though there is no scene that rivals the Morris Day Strobe Light Seduction Scene from Graffiti Bridge). That this movie extends its paws over the current hip hop landscape in unquestioned. Even though it's been 13 years since Biggie mushed out "it's like the crack did to Pookie in New Jack, except when I cross over there ain't no coming back" at the conclusion of Ready to Die, current G.O.A.T. Lil Wayne (Weezy Fucking Baby for you who need unpleasant sexual pairing imagery in yr nicknames) has his street (of the burbs and dorm rooms) classic official album series THE CARTER 1 and 2 seem to be named with a dueling reference to the housing project that Nino Brown takes over with his nutso crack house scheme as well as LW aka WFB's respective last name and a subliminal thrown at Joe Camel incarnate, JZ. Oh yeah, and how could I get this far without mentioning Pookie's positively surrealistically over sized and conspicuous camera belt. He might as well have been wearing a cowboy hat with a giant lens popping out of it like Homer Simpson did that one time. His final plea into the camera for Ice-T and Judd after he gets found out is unintentional comedy at its most honest and true. Oh yeah, and what about my main man Judd Nelson's turn as a loose cannon cop that no one else will work with. The thing is I could buy this to an extent cause he WAS John Bender if he didn't wear the silliest widdle tinted-glasses-that-Richard-Grieco-refused -to-wear-on-an episode-of-21-Jump-Street-and-Judd-Nelson -picked up-off -the-prop-table ever, which when combined with his Fido Dido haircut equals the least intimidating bad-ass cop not portrayed by Kevin Spacey in the history of the world according to Terri Garr. But none of this can take away from the fact that New Jack City is an undeniable classic crime movie thats pacing never flags, features memorable if slight characters, and lots of drugs, sex, and violence but not without letting everyone know what is really going on (crack is wack). One of the best dollar videos I own, I will cherish it forever and you should too or else Woody Harrelson will steal your weed.

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