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Wednesday, March 26, 2003


Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood
Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Craig Fernandez
Review by Mil Peliculas

Burn rubber, not your soul…

It's deep, contemplative sayings like this that elevate this magnificent film from the trite piece of hip-hop piston-pumping fluff promised by the trailer. Just kidding, it is hip-hop piston-pumping fluff. At times, goofy, at times kinda fun I guess, if you like motorcycle tricks. And who doesn't, when you get right down to it.

Derek Luke stars as "Kid", a young talented motorcycle rider whose father is the mechanic that keeps "Smoke" (Laurence Fishburne) on top of the street racing scene; the "King of Cali" as Smoke is called. Things go south early as Kid's father, Slick Willie, played by Eric LaSalle, is killed when an out-of-control motorcycle smashes into him during a street race. The meat of the story thus begins, as Kid tries to step out of his father's shadow and take his place in the pantheon of great motorcycle street racers. Now, I am going to divulge a few secrets in this review, I figure you probably aren't going to see this one anyway, and if you do, the surprises really are nothing you haven't seen before. It is revealed late in the film, that Smoke is Kid's real father. I think the writers thought this might complicate the story, but they don't exploit it in any meaningful way. The best we get is a tense scene between Kid and his mother, where he asks her if she was ever going to tell him Smoke was his real father, if Slick Willie hadn't died. She says, "I don't know…would you have wanted to know?" Kid responds with, "I don't know." Now, just because you say, "I don't know" with a brooding, intense look on your face, doesn't mean you've done anything to clue us in on how your character is feeling. She doesn't know, you don't know; guess what, the audience doesn't know either. Thanks for that. There are some things to keep the average older white guy like me watching, Meagan Good plays Kid's girlfriend. I've never seen this girl before but I think she's been in an few things, and she's hotter than a bug under a magnifying glass on a Death Valley August afternoon. And there are some okay motorcycle sequences, nothing too amazing though. In fact, all of the races are basically just drag races, not very interesting visually. We are told that "it's the rider, not the bike," but it's difficult to understand this based on the movie, which offers no insights into what it takes to be a good racer.

I think this film may be trying to be like Saturday Night Fever, meaning that SNF is about disco, but it really is not about disco, in fact, it's an anti-disco movie. Well, this film may be trying to do the same thing with motorcycles. I think in this case the writers think it is about what it takes to be a man. Well, if that's the case. They biffed it. This movie, it seems, really is just about motorcycle racing.

Burn rubber, not your soul. That line is spoken more than once, and I'm not sure what it means, don't lose sight of who you are, or something like that. Anyway, the ending is completely baffling, and seems to go against the value system the movie sets up for itself. Ready? All through the movie we sort of get half-assed moral lessons on how dangerous it is to race in the streets and how Kid should stop. And how Smoke (Fishburne) has never grown up, still chasing young girls, this is sort of explored with Kid's mother, and one of Smoke's old girlfriends played, by Lisa Bonet in a real disposable role. The big climax is set up like this: Kid Challenges Smoke (who's undefeated in over 200 races) to one race. If Smoke wins, Kid must stop racing (which is ostensibly the right thing to do) but if Kid wins, then Smoke must stop racing. So what happens? The big race comes, it's a good one, real exciting, down a long straight dirt road, and…and...Smoke eases off the throttle a little bit and let's Kid win. Why? I have no idea. Kid and his friends celebrate. Now Kid has inherited the mantle as "King of Cali," which he didn't even really earn, and will have to defend his title, maybe crack his head open, who knows. Didn't the filmmakers see American Graffiti for Christ's sake? I give up. The only way that would have worked as an ending would be if it were Laurence Fishburne's story, which it ain't. So, filmmaking 101, don't switch protagonists right at the end, or you run the risk of completely deflating any sort of catharsis or resolution by the time the credits roll. Did I mention that Meagan Good was really hot?

To wrap it up: Kid is an uninteresting and drab hero, as is the plot. Fishburne is really the life preserver that keeps the whole thing from sinking, but maybe we should just let this one sink. It's not worth your time.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Written and Directed by Joe Carnahan

Despite the harsh viewing conditions under which I was forced to watch NARC, I still came away thinking I had seen an exceptional, hardcore police drama. Back up a minute, I saw the film in Long Beach, I won't say the name of the "theater" but it's on PCH. Anyway, the sound was a bit muffled--I thought about asking the manager if any pillows had gone missing lately, and if they could have ended up packed in front of the speakers--and on top of that, the picture was framed improperly, the mattes on the sides stayed all the way out, you know, for a widescreen cinemascope movie, but NARC is flat, meaning it ain't real wide. So I've got fuzzy edges on the sides, and about two feet of picture spilling onto the black matting underneath the picture. But hey, they got my money, that's all they care about. Jackasses.

Now to the film. Ray Liotta in top form, dramatically, not physically, that is. He gained twenty pounds for the role, not sure why, maybe just for a different look. He plays a sad-sack cop named Roy Oak, whose wife died of cancer a while back. Seems his partner, an undercover drug agent, was killed, and the case went cold, and was shelved. Enter Jason Patric, whose brooding, sedate acting style fits this role like a glove. Patric's character, Tellis, was involved in a shooting, which got him suspended, or was it fired? (like I said, the sound was muffled) Tellis is down and out, in need of a job, he has a baby, and a wife with one foot out the door. Tellis gets an opportunity to work with Oak in reactiviating the cop-killing case. He finds that Oak, while a good cop, tends to operate outside of his authority. The film does trod through familiar territory, but deals with it more intelligently than your average Hollywood fare, and seems well-researched as far as the police work goes.

For the most part, it's a quiet film, which I tend to like, not a lot of music swells to tell us when something emotional is going on. The whole thing is emotional, frankly. The camera work is documentary-like, and voyeuristic at times, like we are intruding into personal moments that we shouldn't be seeing. There's a nice little moment when Tellis' wife comes home while he's asleep. She slips off her shoe, and wakes him up by rubbing her foot in his face. It's sweet and warm, and really helps bring us to the characters. There are some surprises, and it's hard to predict where it's going, that's always a good thing. The ending literally leaves the audience to confront a moral question. Sure to provoke dicussion amongst viewers, good to see with a group, maybe before dinner. So, after you've seen it, drop the Snobs an email and let us know what YOU would do...