Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 20, 2020 1:57 pm 
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Forgivable criminals

This is an action heist movie with a social conscience - at first, anyway. Written by P.G. Cuschieri, it's focused on a set of historic wrongs set way back in 2005. Its four central young black men return to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans then, after Katrina, finding their houses destroyed and their prospects nil. Disaster capitalism is in motion. Naomi Klein, who coined that term, isn't invoked; her book wasn't out yet. But the four brohs, Blink, Miracle, Junior and Andre, "Dre" (the charismatic and handsome Shameik Moore, with Demitrius Shipp, Keean Johnson, and Denzel Wittiker), hip to the injustice, talk about how the destruction is just going to speed up gentrification. Stingingly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has nothing to offer them or theirs at all. So, social injustice drives these young man to crime. And we have a colorful setting for the action of this handsomely produced movie, which arrives as a heady rush of color-drenched chiaroscuro. Does the social significance carry through? What the filmmakers have in mind may owe a nod to Mario Van Peebles' 1991 New Jack City - a flamboyant, but well-researched gangster movie, genre with a sense of time and place. But this iteration, in the current vein, is a bit overstuffed, more eager to satisfy than to achieve logic, and considerably longer than its forebear.

The leader of the four, Blink (aka James), recently married to Demyra (Kat Graham) and already with a small boy, has artistic talent. He is a cartoon artist, whose portfolio is brushed off by Peter Felton (Joel David Moore), an editor. Presumably the other three have all been looking around for jobs too. But they find a hopeless situation, and so they submit themselves to the #1 local gangster "Cousin" Bass (rapper T.I.), admitting to themselves on the way that maybe they're gangsters themselves (can't anybody swing either way?) Cousin sets them up to rob a big local business, a casino, for cash. The operation, executed in fetching but not very disguising stocking masks, falters, ending with them running off from police in a storm of bullets, with only a little of the cash and some chips, chased by police cars. Later, it seems they may have been set up.

In the aftermath "Dre" dies and the others threaten a crooked-seeming funeral home "reverend" to make him deal with the body as the victim of a car accident. Enter seedy, drunken "N.O" Councilman Jackson Symms (Ethan Hawke), who threatens Detective Lucinda Valencia (Elza Gonzalez) to straighten this out, because it seems the cop cars were not real cops. For a while the movie takes on a police procedural side as the remaining three young "gangsters", pressured by Cousin Bass to pay him lost money from the casino heist, continue crime. And then, when forgiven somehow, they pause to pursue their hobbies, then return to rob the people they're most angry at.

Somehow, they appear blest. Though the crooked cop Courtney (Rob Morgan) is hostile to Lucinda, she, the drunken Symms, and the weird "religious" top drug dealer "The Saint" (Terrence Howard) all seem disposed to forgive Bllink and his two "boys" and give him a second chance. This focus on redemption, loyalty to the unsung, untouristy parts of the Lower Ninth, and a critique of the system validates Cut Throat City's intentions to be something more than a violent heist flick.

However, length was mentioned. Dante James of Film Threat, whose review was one of the first pieces on the movie to appear, already pointed to "pacing problems" - places where unlike so many hyperactive thrillers "this scene or that moment didn’t need that much room to breathe." And this also always means both lack of momentum and weak structure. Nonetheless there is lapidary richness in the wedding of music and image and the colorful performances, in which the young guys and the confident Ms. Gonzalez hold their own with the big names, who include Wesley Snipes in a minor but pungent role as an elder whose wisdom the young fellows don't have much time for.

This is a satisfyingly glamorous new film to watch at a time of lock-down deprivation from movie house glamour. It leaves you sated and then some. Here, enough is never enough. The three youths get away with robbery and murder - and then - apparently - go out and do it again, this time choosing their own more worthy target and self-immolation. Speaking of repeats, the reunion of Blink and Demyra after the boys return from their time in hiding with Blink's hideaway dad (Snipes) is so rich and ritualistic it feels like a second marriage ceremony - with a lushly scored romantic make-out sequence as a bonus. Everything is a bonus here. With all the wish-fulfillment, it's almost surprising "Dre" doesn't come back to life and rejoin his brohs. And then, for Blink there's - apparently - another, happier, much happier, finale, with his artwork celebrated and glorified as only Hollywood can celebrate and glorify a young unknown's artwork. Which one is the wish-fulfillment fantasy? Take your pick. This isn't logic, it's entertainment. And thoroughly enjoyable if you don't mind its being structurally ramshackle, the social conscience getting a little lost in the fantasy.

Cut Throat City, 139 mins., was set to debut at the South by Southwest Festival, whose main real-space form was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA’s third film — following his 2012 kung fu movie The Man With the Iron Fists and 2017’s Love Beats Rhymes. The delayed theatrical release (April 10; July 17; July 31) is coming tomorrow, August 21st. There will be an online release in October. Metascore: 67%.

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