New Jack City (1991)
“Where survival depends on friends, trust and power… an organized crime family out to run this city is up against cops who know its streets.”
New Jack City (1991)
Director: Mario Van Peebles
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne
Synopsis: A crime lord ascends to power and becomes megalomaniacal while a maverick police detective vows to stop him.
For all its flashy, high-octane direction, New Jack City is a highly derivative movie that’s nothing more than a black 90’s update of Warner Brothers gangster flicks of the 30’s – it even repeatedly references Al Pacino’s 1983 Scarface, which was itself a remake of the 1931 movie of the same name.
The story concerns the violent attempt of a Harlem hood to become the drugs lord of the city, and his descent into megalomania as he achieves his goal. Wesley Snipes, in a typically aggressive performance, plays the character with no redeeming principles whatsoever (the audience is supposed to identify and root for an undercover cop played by rapper Ice-T), but instead of turning us against him, the overblown script merely turns him into a cartoon character of violence, leaving the viewer cold unconcerned about his fate.
Unfortunately, this genre has now been so overdone that, with its moody characters draped in gold chains and jewellery, and its continual references to ‘homeys’, New Jack City often looks like the raft of spoofs that were made when the genre had finally run its course. Undoubtedly, it was a much more powerful piece of work on its initial release. Nevertheless, it would soon be followed by far superior fare such as Boyz ‘n’ the Hood, which would rely less on stereotype and melodrama to put across its message, and more on social truisms and realistic characterisation.
Any anti-drugs movie that shows a crack addict recovering from his addiction in a running time of approximately two minutes by attending a couple of counselling sessions and enduring a few sweaty nights really does have to take a long hard look at itself.
(Reviewed 1st May 2002)