Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Waist Deep

Posted By on Wed, Jun 28, 2006 at 12:00 AM

I remember once asking the late Gordon Parks, legendary photojournalist and award-winning documentarian, whatever possessed him to take a baffling midcareer departure to direct the blaxploitation classic Shaft. He seemed stunned by the question. "What," Parks finally replied, "a man can't have a little fun every now and then?"

Let's presume Detroit native Vondie Curtis-Hall adopted a similar mind-set in directing and co-writing the gangsta rehash Waist Deep: a mindless amusement, the chance to test his action movie chops and hang out with some young bruthas at Hollywood's expense. Curtis-Hall has established himself as a solid, commendable actor, and while his directorial skills have improved (he can't wipe Glitter off his résumé, no matter how he tries), he's capable of better than this.

Under a veneer of urban political unrest and father-son devotion, Waist Deep stretches the thinnest of storylines over a script that's cliché-clogged and shamelessly derivative. The film bills itself as "a sexy 21st-century Bonnie and Clyde" (it isn't), and its concluding scene is a little too similar to The Shawshank Redemption. Ex-model Tyrese Gibson, who seems to display more range in supporting roles than as leading man, stars as O2 (short for Oxygen), an ex-con trying to turn his life around for the sake of his doe-eyed young son, Junior (Vondie's own son, H. Hunter Hall — bet that casting call was tough). When he's carjacked at a Los Angeles intersection with Junior in the backseat, however, O2 instantly reverts to his street-thug, shoot-first ways to get his baby boy back.

This was no random jacking: O2 was set up by a luscious hoochie-mama named Coco (Meagan Good of Roll Bounce). But in a turn of events, he enlists her, along with his ne'er-do-well relative Lucky (the always likable Larenz Tate), to rescue Junior. The kid's being held for ransom in the drug den of neighborhood warlord Big Meat (played by hip-hop superstar The Game). To raise the $100,000 Meat demands, O2 and Coco stage a spirited robbery spree of his stash houses and safety deposit boxes in hopes of sparking a diversionary gang war between Meat and his chief rival.

Waist Deep is most notable for the feature debut of The Game in villain horns, and while it's hard to dislike any character named Big Meat, his performance does prompt the question, "Why does every rapper think he can act?" Every actor isn't convinced he can rap. Though Curtis-Hall tries to toughen up the rapper with extra tattoos and a prosthetic eye, his delivery is mostly defined by grunts and unintelligible growls.

Eventually this movie loses all connection with credibility with O2's tear-jerky farewell to Junior by cell phone while eluding a fleet of LAPD cruisers in a high-speed chase. How can you name a movie Waist Deep when it has the depth of a kiddie pool?

Jim McFarlin writes about movies for Metro Times.. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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