His son. His life. His freedom. He's taking them all back.
After being all the rage with studios, then losing favor when several in the genre failed to spark box office fire (noticing video shelves, the genre’s popularity with straight-to-vid distributors has never waned), films like New Jack City, Menace II Society, and Boyz-N-the Hood have been acknowledged and identified as having succinctly defined the genre of urban thriller. So when you’ve seen many of them, there are key points you look for to see if the film can rise above the masses.
More recently, films like New Jersey Drive, Set it Off, Dead Presidents, Caught Up, In Too Deep, Paid in Full, and Hustle and Flow, have been able to raise the thug life storylines to some higher purpose by revealing intense dramatic situations, well defined characters and story motivations/structures, and above standard cinematography/visualizations. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the truly outstanding ones provide in-depth social relevance or analysis beyond the mere rudimentary, or in Waist Deep’s case, sadly forced illustrations.
Even Curtis-Hall’s (Redemption: The Tookie Williams Story, Glitter) own erratic Gridlock’d was more introspective and enlightening, while Waist Deep is all show, no substance.
Most problematic is the film’s inability to transcend the C-grade storyline. And without the ability to sustain or develop a genuine menace or villain/opposing force (a good one was LL Cool J as God in In Too Deep), even the ticking clock mechanism works to limited effect, which is the kiss of death for this type of film.
What does raise the film above dregs are the likeable yet gritty people who inhabit the leads and that aforementioned ticking clock keeping the pace brisk. Plus, the on-screen chemistry between the pair (Tyrese-Megan Good) is apparent early on.
Otis “O2” (Tyrese Gibson) is a two-time felon whose newly paroled security job is the start of a hopeful new beginning. When irresponsible Uncle Lucky fails to pick up O2’s son, Junior (H.Hunter Hall), from school, O2 is forced to leave work early, without permission, and with the company gun, igniting the chain of events culminating in 48 hectic and stress filled hours.
Which brings us to…
On the mean streets of the City of
On foot, O2 chases the fleeing carjacker and his following accomplices to no avail. But O2 does end up a murder suspect since he’s caught on tape shooting two of the assailants on a street which just so happens to be the location of a Save Our Streets rally by community activists the very next day, bringing major heat upon the area in efforts to find this killer.
Unable to save his son, O2 tracks down the kidnappers by enlisting the silky and shady Constance “
Due to a prior heist, which ended up in O2’s serving a six-year bid (sentence), Meat thinks O2 is still holding out the $100,000 they grabbed (its true disappearance is nicely revealed later on). Meat gives him barely one day.
While scraping up the money he‘s now forced to pay as ransom, and using a slight Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars type of duplicity, O2’s plan involves eliminating both Big Meat (his nemesis) and P-Money (her nemesis), another supposedly (we barely see him) rival kingpin in this part of town. During their executing various thievery, the two become a sort of Bonnie and
Although the film’s first and last third has some of its strongest and silliest character/story development, it’s too late to hone back in the focus or energy with meaningless slam bang action and gunplay.
Though its inventive use of Los Angeles locales and a dangerous, clock ticking ride bring to mind Cellular and Collateral, in Waist Deep this only reveals its shortcomings even further.
It would have helped if the filmmaker had seen the more complex and starkly built Tsotsi - a film with an entirely different mood and more compelling characters/story and direction, whereas Waist Deep sticks to its gutter roots.
The little effort made to raise the film above its roots is only so heart felt when the execution doesn’t trust its audience’s ability to delve more purposeful into character and story, which causes this film’s limited social dynamics (e.g. black male fatherhood) to appear more perfunctory. Ultimately, the film is not profound in any way.
And never have I seen an audience respond with such uproariously negative vigor as witnessed by Waist Deep’s utterly silly (but in a some ways understandable) happy ending.
An interesting final note, according to director Vondie Curtis-Hall, the script for Waist Deep was originally developed for Tupac Shakur, had collected dust after his death, and was re-developed by Hall when the production company who owned the property approached him. Like many re-developed scripts (not that there haven’t been successes such as the once shelved, Heat) some things are best left on the shelf or in the drawer.
© completed by Julian Boyance on June 23, 2006
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