Young, Black, and Didn’t Give a Fuck.
My friend Forty requested today’s movie a pretty good while back, but he and I have a history of watching movies together so that we can make jokes about them and it seemed only appropriate that he join me in the movie he requested. But the first time we got together to watch today’s movie, I started getting horrible stomach pains the likes of which I had never felt before, causing me to cut our movie viewing short. I managed to survive, unless I’m writing these reviews posthumously, but we had not gotten very far into the movie, so it remained on the table. Forty recently had some time off, so we decided to get together and give it another shot. The only question that remained was whether or not it was the movie causing my stomach pain. If I finish this review, it probably was not the movie and was instead the Wendy’s that I ate the night before. This movie is Menace II Society, written by Tyger Williams, directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, and starring Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate, Jada Pinkett Smith, MC Eiht, Glenn Plummer, Clifton Powell, Arnold Johnson, Marilyn Coleman, Charles S. Dutton, Bill Duke, Too Short, and Samuel L. Jackson.
The movie starts with Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) and his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) going into a store to buy beer, but getting into a confrontation with the Korean storekeeper and his wife that ends in O-Dog gunning them both down and stealing the tape from the surveillance camera. We then basically jump into the life of Caine and his friends in the ‘hood. Caine deals drugs and lives with his grandparents (Arnold Johnson and Marilyn Coleman), while taking care of the child and ex-girlfriend of his imprisoned father figure Pernell (Glenn Plummer) named Ronnie (Jada Pinkett Smith). At one point, Caine gets shot in the shoulder in a carjacking that ends in the death of his cousin. Later, he gets arrested with O-Dog for trying to steal a car. But then Ronnie asks Caine to move to Atlanta with her to start a new life, so everything will end up happily ever after, just like every story from crime-riddled neighborhoods does.
I had heard a lot about this movie in the past, but had never had inspiration to see it. I probably figured that I couldn’t possibly relate to the characters in the movie as I didn’t grow up in bad neighborhoods, even though I did grow up in the meth capital of the world. I was never really around that stuff though. Now that I’ve actually seen the movie, I have my same problems with it as I do with most drama movies in that I found it good, but depressing, and I don’t like being bummed out in my movie experience. But the movie was indeed good, but I couldn’t help seeing all of the occasions that it clearly and blatantly ripped off a movie I have seen, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. My timeline may be off… But if I get through the bummer, I enjoy the movie for what it is: a look at the life of some criminals in 1993-era Watts, and one that doesn’t deify or vilify the greater majority of the characters. We understand on some level why they do what they do, even though we don’t condone it. I feel like a good portion of the writing doesn’t really get that much respect out of me because of that; because it could easily be a true story, it’s just not based on anyone in particular. And the dialogue certainly doesn’t deserve that much respect, because at least 80% of the words used in this movie are either the N-word or “fuck”. I also see that Wikipedia says that it uses “fuck” or one of its derivatives 300 times in the movie, setting the record of most fucks per minute with 3.07 times per minute. If I had noticed that sooner, I might have made my review try to set the record for fucks, but I’m not going back to add them now. I also got the feeling that I wish they could have included subtitles in this movie for white folk, because I required a translator for the greater majority of the slang in the movie and Forty could only help so much. There were a couple of things in the movie that I took issue with. The first was right in the beginning with the shooting of the Korean couple. I definitely didn’t take issue with the shooting of the Koreans, but I did take issue of what started it. Why did the dude have to talk shit? He said, “I don’t want no trouble,” mere seconds before talking shit about O-Dog’s parents and welcoming trouble with open arms. I also took issue with O-Dog watching the tape of him killing them over and over again with his friends. I don’t even have a joke for that. It’s just crazy. Of course, I also took issue with the whole attitude Caine has about his station in life, and it’s one that it seems most of the other characters have as well. One of the characters says, “God don’t care about us. Look how fucked up this place is.” It was either O-Dog or Caine that said that (I can’t remember), but that is the most stupid things I’ve ever heard. You’re going to blame God for that? You and your friends occupy most of your time drinking, selling drugs, or killing people. You sure are helping with the revitalization of your community, man. And not only are you doing the horrible things, but you’ll occupy the rest of your time wearing the tape thin on the video of you doing horrible things, if you can’t find any to do at that moment. One thing about this movie that did make total sense to me was that, being a black people movie, there would certainly be a prolonged shot at some random actress’ booty. You did not let me down.
Most of the performances were very good in this movie, but Tyrin Turner never really worked for me, which was a shame because he was the main character. In most circumstances in the movie he seemed to act as if he was trying too hard and not being realistic. I first noticed it when he would check his pager. Instead of just glancing at it, he chose to show that he was reading it as if he had no idea what he was looking at, as if it was reading the symbol for Prince’s name instead of “1 Page”. It became a running joke for me through the movie to constantly make him say, “Yeah, that’s cool and everything. I’m sorry, I’m just a little distracted trying to figure out what the fuck was paged to me earlier. What the fuck does that gibberish mean?!” His pronunciation of words also confused me more than once. I had to try really hard to figure out what he meant when he demanded a guy’s “Jurry”. I eventually figured out that he wanted the man’s “jewelry”. It made much more sense after that. I would give him credit for the fact that he was pretty convincing in the scenes when he seemed close to death and the scene where he was crying in the prison while talking to Pernell. I thought Larenz Tate did a good job as O-Dog, but he did something that confused me as well. I was confused by the fact that, even though all of these people were always a hair trigger away from killing someone, they still were brutal in the amount of shit they would talk to each other. I don’t know how they hadn’t all killed each other. O-Dog even mocked Caine for crying when they were taking him to the hospital as he was almost bleeding to death. Samuel L. Jackson was also in this movie, and he gives a great performance that is VERY Samuel L. Jackson. It’s the exact kind of performance he’s known for, like the Chappelle’s Show portrayal of him. Also, would it have killed you to get Jada Pinkett Smith to wear something tight at some point in the movie? She was young and pretty hot in this movie, but you couldn’t really tell because she was wearing Shaquille O’Neal’s street clothes for the bulk of the movie.
Even though it’s definitely not the type of movie I typically go for, Menace II Society was a really good movie. If nothing else, it’s a good look at inner city gang violence and the people involved, and shows them unflinchingly and lets you reach your own conclusions about the message of the movie. The greater majority of the performances are very real, but the main character seemed to be trying too hard for all but a few instances of quality. I won’t typically recommend a movie that is such a bummer, but this is a good movie. I’ll let you decide for yourselves if it’s something you need to see. Menace II Society gets “We just havin’ some fun with the motherfuckin’ tape” out of “Teach him the way we grew up was bullshit.”
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