Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Jack City

Before he was one of the biggest names in the ‘90s action films—before Blade, before Demolition Man, before Passenger 57—Wesley Snipes made a name for himself as the ruthless leader of the Cash Money Brothers in Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City. A “period piece” that chronicled the rise of crack cocaine in the late ‘80s, NJC attempted to shine a light on the impact of the drug war on America’s inner cities, while also shining a light on just how epically baller the lifestyle of a drug kingpin really is. Throw in Ice-T (who around this time was better known for writing songs about killing cops than for playing them in shitty police procedurals) as the detective bent on bringing Snipes to justice, and you’ve got a movie that’s just begging for a deep-scoring.
  • Opening your movie with a song named after your movie. = +13pts 
  • New Jack City hit theaters in 1991, but was set in the late 1980s. It’s basically a period piece in the same way that The Big Lebowski was. = -3pts 
  • Wesley Snipes drops a deadbeat he was dangling over the rail of a bridge, quipping “See ya, and I wouldn’t wanna be ya.” For displaying all the sharp-witted verbal acumen of a 4th grader. = -6pts 
  • Ice-T getting jacked by a baby-faced Chris Rock. = +21pts 
  • After a lengthy, grueling foot-chase, Ice shoots Chris Rock in the ankle in the middle of a school yard. That’s standard police procedure, right? = -4pts 
  • Club emcee duties courtesy of Flavor Flav. = +10pts 
  • …back when Flavor Flav was better known for rapping alongside Chuck D than for plowing Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife. = +12pts 
  • Bling. = +6pts 
  • “Damn. Crack.” = +17pts 
  • Times were tough for all-male a capella groups in the 1980s, and many were forced to live as transients. = +3pts 
  • Is Ice wearing eyeliner? = -5pts 
  • It totally figures that John Bender would grow up to be a cop. = +7pts 
  • Detective John Bender discharges his firearm in Ice’s apartment… in front of their superior officer. That’s standard police procedure, right? = -8pts 
  • The Cash Money Brothers take over The Carter, an apartment complex in the inner city, and convert it into their drug empire’s stronghold. For setting up a stunning The Raid-esque conclusion. = +25pts 
  • Wesley Snipes’s offer of fresh fruit to his Mafia connec. = -3pts 
  • Upon being informed that the Cash Money Brothers are cutting them out of the drug trade by dealing directly with the Peruvians, Don Armeteo’s reaction is essentially “They’ll come back around.” = -10pts 
  • Ice-T encounters Chris Rock again, this time beating up on his girlfriend in a fit of crack-induced rage. Ice does the logical thing and puts the man in rehab and invests all of his time into personally overseeing his recovery. = -12pts (Seriously, when exactly does Ice-T fight crime?) 
  • ‘90s fashion alert: Red double-breasted suit. = +5pts
  • Mafia goons show up on Wesley Snipes’s home turf with a peace offering of a lawn jockey with a noose around its neck. Not surprisingly, this gift draws the ire of their host. We’re not really sure what the mafia’s endgame was in this gambit. = -11pts 
  • The use of Scarface footage as foreshadowing of a gangster’s inevitable fall from power beats season 5 of Breaking Bad to the punch by about 22 years. = +6pts 
  • That lady seducing Wesley Snipes away from his girlfriend has some serious shoulders. = +6pts 
  • Detective John Bender prepares Chris Rock to go undercover and infiltrate the CMB’s operation in The Carter by telling him he’s totally unprepared to do it and will probably die. That’s standard police procedure, right? = -16pts 
  • Why the hell is Detective Stone wearing a baby in this scene? = -14pts
  • In The Carter, Wesley Snipes has all the people cutting and packaging his crack work naked, which is a totally legitimate way to keep people from stealing your product, and not an excuse to shoehorn some gratuitous T&A into the movie. = -3pts 
  • Chris Rock, who has moved up the ranks of the CMB’s drug empire to become a supervisor over crack production within The Carter, relapses in the most spectacular way imaginable and blows his cover. = +13pts 
  • The police storm The Carter in order to retrieve their asset, wearing their police-issue ski masks. Hopefully Ice is still carrying his police-issue trench spike from earlier in the film. = +7pts 
  • The Carter has been built up as this impenetrable fortress filled with tenants who act as live-in hostages. How the hell is this raid NOT the action centerpiece of the movie? = -25pts 
  • Wesley Snipes gathers the top-ranking members of his organization to berate them over the loss of The Carter. It’s worth pointing out that women are better represented in the leadership of the Cash Money Brothers than in corporate America today. = +10pts 
  • Wesley Snipes to his partner, Gee Money: “Sit your five-dollar ass down before I make change.” = +25pts 
  • At Chris Rock’s funeral, we learn that the case against Wesley Snipes has fallen apart because the police did not have enough evidence to make any arrests, this despite the fact that, before he died, Chris Rock managed to get video footage of some of the highest-ranking members of the CMB hiring him to perform illegal activities. Did someone record over those tapes with reruns of Small Wonder? = -32pts 
  • Ice-T and Detective John Bender decide to take matters into their own hands and go undercover as drug dealers in order to bring Wesley Snipes down. Because, while arresting Snipes’ lieutenants for their confessed crimes and striking a deal with them to turn state’s evidence is clearly impossible in New Jack City’s vision of America, evidence gathered through illegal, off-book police activity will totally hold up in court. = -19pts 
  • ‘90s tech alert: Gee Money’s see-through corded plastic phone. = +5pts 
  • Wesley Snipes tells Ice-T about how he had to murder a school teacher (in the the pale moonlight) as part of his gang initiation. In completely unrelated news, Ice-T’s mother was a school teacher whose murder has gone, to this point, completely unsolved. = -11pts 
  • Ice-T saves Wesley Snipes from an outraged, pistol-packing citizen, which A) Helps him to win the trust of the wary drug lord, and B) Shows that Wesley Snipes has pretty crap security if some old dude with a gun can get within five feet of him. = -8pts 
  • ‘90s tech alert: The 3.5” floppies that Detective John Bender steals out of Wesley Snipes’ safe. = +10pts 
  • “Hey, baby, you still mad at me? Well fuck you then.” = +15pts 
  • Ambushed by mafia hitmen at a wedding, Wesley Snipes uses a flower girl as a human shield. = +13pts 
  • Ice-T’s carefully laid sting turns into a bloodbath when one of Wesley Snipes’ henchmen recognizes Ice as the cop who shot Pookie in that school yard. Who would think that shooting a guy in front of a bunch of kids could have unforeseen adverse consequences down the line? = +2pts 
  • Wesley Snipes tearfully murdering his erstwhile best friend-turned-betrayer, Gee Money, beats Season 3 of The Wire to the punch by a good 13 years. = +12pts 
  • Ice-T, after emerging victorious from the climactic fist fight with Wesley Snipes: “I want to shoot you so bad, my dick’s hard.” = +22pts 
  • During an impassioned speech to the court room, in which he frames his confederate Kareem as the leader of the CMB, Wesley Snipes attempts to remind us all that this movie is about America, and stuff. = -14pts 
  • Wesley Snipes turns state’s evidence in exchange for a one-year prison sentence, but in a stroke of shocking irony, he is gunned down by the old dude who tried to kill him earlier in the movie. If there’s a lesson to be learned from all this, it’s that police work is bullshit, and the only way to make meaningful change in the world is to take the law into your own hands. = -34pts 
  • But this song was in the movie. = +13pts
Total Score = +20pts
Available on: Netflix DVD

Part gangster film, part exploitation film, with just a little bit of musical thrown in for S&Gs, New Jack City is a movie that wants to revel in the greed and violence of its anti-hero while also delivering a stern message to society about the horrors of the drug war. It’s kind of funny; Ice-T was allegedly reluctant to accept this role due to his antipathy towards cops, and in many ways, the character he plays is the very embodiment of the kind of brutal police thug that Ice decried in his music (he shoots a fleeing, nonviolent offender in the ankle!!!). Still, the abundance of flamboyant ‘90s fashion and hilariously street-tough dialogue makes this film a gem worth checking out, especially with a Scorecard in hand.

Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling

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