Sex, Leins & Videotape

Urban disturbance: city scapes and mean streets explored in the latest DVD round up

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Long before director Ernest R Dickerson achieved prominence through his work on seminal TV drama The Wire, he made Juice (Second Sight) a fascinating hip-hop-fuelled crime drama that represented the late Tupac Shakur’s first movie role.

Bishop (Tupac Shakur, Gridlock’d), Q (Omar Epps, House), Raheem (Khalil Kain, Girlfriends) and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins, Bullet) are four friends from Harlem, who spend their days skipping school, shoplifting from record stores and scuffling with a local Puerto Rican gang.

Despite referring to themselves as The Wrecking Crew, the posse’s activities are fairly tame compared to those of their peers, some of whom are performing stickups to turn a quick buck. After viewing James Cagney in White Heat, an energised Bishop decides that the group must go on to pull bigger and better scams in order to win some respect. Despite their reluctance, the crew are swayed by Bishop’s persistence, and they formulate a plan to rob their local bodega at gunpoint. However, the heist goes disastrously wrong, and its repercussions change their lives forever.

With a classic hip-hop soundtrack – title track Juice (Know The Ledge) by Eric B & Rakim in particular is a stone-cold classic – Juice still feels fresh almost two decades on, and suggests that the magnetic Tupac may well have gone on to secure a cinematic reputation to match his influential music career, if it weren’t for his 1996 murder, aged just 25. With bit-parts for a pre-fame Samuel L Jackson and Queen Latifah among others, Juice has plenty to recommend it, and complements Dickerson’s prior work as Spike Lee’s cinematographer. All in all, a worthy reissue of a lost classic.

Executive produced by Oliver Stone, well-received 1992 drama South Central (Second Sight) saw its director Stephen Milburn Anderson (billed here as Steve Anderson) pushed to the filmmaking fore. What’s more, the movie saw him elevated to the heady heights of the New York Times’ Who’s Who Among Hot New Filmmakers list, alongside a post-Reservoir Dogs Quentin Tarantino among others. Despite earning plenty of kudos for his debut, Anderson only made one more movie – 1997’s Dead Men Can’t Dance – before disappearing from view until last year’s dubious Sean Bean thriller Ca$h. Now available on DVD for the first time, a new generation can experience the grim reality of early ‘90s gang-life for themselves.

As the movie opens, young hoodlum Bobby (Glenn Plummer, Saw 2, Menace II Society) is paroled from the Youth Authority, and quickly hooks up with his fellow members of the Hoover Street Deuces. Although Bobby’s girlfriend Carole gave birth to his son, Jimmy, while he was incarcerated, it is clear that she is well and truly under the spell of local smack dealer Genie Lamp. Upon returning home, an altercation with the local pusherman quickly breaks out, and Bobby’s charismatic friend Ray Ray (Byron Minns) urges the Deuces to take action against Genie Lamp.

However, tough-talking Ray Ray isn’t concerned with cleaning up the neighbourhood – he just wants to get rid of his rival so he can line his own pockets selling crack to the locals. When a hit on Genie Lamp unravels, Bobby find himself back behind bars, and only time will tell whether he can see the error of is ways and stop his young son from making the same mistakes as him. South Central is undeniably dated – with some unfortunately comical scenes – but the drama holds up well, despite a few overly sentimental TV-movie-style platitudes. If you can forgive the creaky sets and time-worn setting, South Central is an interesting movie, well worth seeking out.

Back in 2008 Keanu Reeves cop thriller Street Kings did a brisk trade, despite withering reviews from most critics. Street Kings 2: Motor City (20th Century Fox) dispenses with original writer James Ellroy’s seedy LA setting, and relocates the action to Detroit. Unfortunately, all of the big-name cast have also bitten the dust, leaving newcomer Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) to shoulder the brunt of the action.

Marty Kingston (Liotta) is a disgraced narcotics detective who is shot when a drug bust goes wrong, and ends up dressed as a dog, giving schoolchildren educational speeches. When his partner Quintana is killed by a masked gunman four years later, Marty is thrust back to centre-stage, and is forced to team up with enthusiastic young homicide cop Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy, Borstal Boy) to investigate a string of brutal cop murders, and hunt down the man who murdered his partner. But is anyone clean in Dirty Detroit?

Street Kings 2 is the latest in a long line of studio-produced straight-to-DVD money-spinners that bear little or no resemblance to the movies that they seek to trade off. More often than not, these films are retroactively tweaked to fit in with an existing franchise, explaining the often-tenuous connection between the two films. TV director Chris Fisher already has form for this kind of exercise – he directed the dubious Donnie Darko follow-up s.Darko in 2009 – and while he does little wrong here, the movie ultimately lacks personality. Liotta is a solid if unspectacular presence at the heart of Street Kings 2, but the entire enterprise pales in comparison to the electric 2002 thriller Narc – arguably Liotta’s last great movie – to which this film bears a suspicious resemblance. Overall, a solid, undemanding thriller, albeit one that struggles to live up to the already meagre expectations generated by the first film.

Directed by Menhaj Huda, the award-winning director of Kidulthood, Everywhere & Nowhere (Icon Home Entertainment) is an Anglo-Asian coming-of-age drama about a group of London-based friends who find themselves conflicted between their traditional family lives and the more authentic, contemporary experiences they enjoy. Aspirant music producer Ash (James Floyd, The Infidel) is a bedroom DJ who yearns to hit the big-time, only to find his ambitions sidelined as he knuckles down to non-stop shifts in the family shop. Over the course of a hedonistic weekend, Ash is forced to make a choice between his two lives – a decision that could alter his life forever.

The most interesting aspect of Everywhere & Nowhere is the pulsating soundtrack, which fuses retro Bollywood sounds with modern day beats, but the music is not distracting enough to paper over the film’s glaring deficiencies. With a dangerously clunky script, and a worryingly predictable narrative curve, Everywhere & Nowhere features none of the verve of Huda’s ferocious debut movie, and this clichéd drama feels like a real let down. James Floyd delivers a reasonable performance as the tormented Ash, but the rest of the cast feel wasted, especially James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) and Adam Deacon (Kidulthood/Adulthood). Wretched stuff.

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