(On Blu-Ray, December 2015) There have been so many imitators and spiritual successors to Boyz n the Hood (all the way to 2015’s Dope) that it can be hard today to see the film as it must have appeared in 1991, abruptly bringing South Central L.A. to the suburban multiplex. But revisiting the film is more than worth it even twenty-five years later, because John Singleton’s debut feature has the kind of depth and subtlety that most of its imitators forgot about. It’s a film dominated by crime, for instance, but it is not primarily a criminal film: The drama is strong, multifaceted and the film never loses sight that its authority figure (Lawrence Fishburne, in a terrific role) is right in counseling his son to stay away from even the slightest disregard for the law. The rest of the cast is fantastic, from Angela Basset to Ice Cube to Cuba Gooding Jr. to Nia Long. The film stock grain is obvious on the Blu-Ray disc, but the film is shot cleanly and features a number of sly visual jokes, from the first STOP sign to Reagan references. No doubt about it: Boyz n the Hood remains an impressive piece of work despite time and imitators.
(In French, On TV, March 2015) What a dull, dull movie. It shouldn’t have been that way, especially considering that it melds social issues with military heroics. The true story of the first black master diver in the US Navy, Men of Honor features Robert de Niro (as a crusty instructor) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (as the first black master diver), each of them doing their best but never quite giving life to the roles. Much of the script is strictly by-the-numbers, its inspiring story ill-served by familiar dialogue and dramati situations. Men of Honor is not exactly a bad movie, but it’s almost instantly forgettable the moment the end credits roll. Or even before then, if my wandering attention is any guide.
(On DVD, December 2011) If nothing else, this direct-to-video thriller has an intriguing premise: What if, discussing a very bad day at the local bar, you accidentally made a deal with a hit-man willing to take care of your hit-list? Unsurprisingly, the film’s execution can never quite match the development of the premise: Shot on a budget in Spokane, The Hit List looks and feels like the newest digitally-shot direct-to-video effort: acceptable cinematography, two or three big action sequences, and some directing flair. It’s in the limp script that the film’s limited ambitions become clearer. The protagonist is meant to be portrayed by Cole Hauser as an everyman pushed beyond his limits, but he initially comes across as a schmuck and never recovers from this initial impression. Cuba Gooding Jr. impresses as a grizzled hitman, although though his performance seems erratic and his dialogue feels forced. The script shies away from its most interesting implications, and wastes time showcasing an overlong, mean-spirited and largely unnecessary police station shoot-out. The lacking quality of the script, from its overreaching dialogues to its lack of thematic depth to the graceless way it moves its plot pieces, is the film’s biggest disappointment: While it tries to ape a bit of Collateral’s impact, The Hit List never really rises above its mediocre execution. The ideas are there, but the polish isn’t… and as any good hit-man will tell you, execution is far more important than intentions.