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IN SHORT: a gangsta murder mystery. [Rated R for violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity. 107 minutes]
OK, everyone who remembers the Herman's Hermits movie, raise your hand!
OK, then, everyone who is going to remember "superstar rapper" Nelly's debut, do the same. We thought so.
"Superstar" by our definition, just so there's no accusation of racism or sexism or ageism etcetera, is a term we think should only be applied to a performer whose name is recognized by those of us Great Unwashed that have no reason to know why said Performer is famous. It used to (and probably still should) mean a performer who achieved success in at least three modes -- we don't particularly care for Liza Minelli, either, but she's gone successfully whack on the Broadway stage, on film, as a recording artist and in Vegas. Nelly is a rapper whose act may or may not be limited to being an in your face guttermouth punk with diamonds in his teeth. We don't know. We've never heard of the man before seeing Snipes and had to check the credits to figure out who the hell he was. Who he is, in this particular case, is a minor, as in barely supporting, member of the secondary cast of a movie which is much, much better than anything we had expected. Perhaps, like Will Smith or Ice Cube before him, the man will learn to act one day. Time will tell.
The unfortunate aspect of all of is that the total smoke and mirrors misdirection of Snipes' marketing plan may very well keep it from the African-American (and youngster gangsta wannabees, regardless of race) that would be its primary target. We'll ignore the fact, if you haven't picked up on it as of yet, that we find most rap and all gangsta rap lingo offensive and that our ghetto props are almost nil (we did six months at Tommy Boy records back in the mid-80s, but that was before hip-hop mutated into gangsta). We will emphasize the fact that, once you get bored with the language, writer/director Rich Murray has put together a story that works very well, mixing all the gangsta stereotypes that a dumb old white guy like Cranky has wasted half a page dissing, with a healthy appreciation for Shakespearian blood and violence.
The true star of Snipes is Sam Jones III, recognizable from his teevee role on (the recommended Superman retcon) Smallville. Jones is Erik Triggs, who has a part time gig for Ill Wind Records, plastering posters for their red hot rap artist Prolifik all over Philadelphia. Prolifik's initial single has been #1 on the charts for sixteen straight weeks. His finished, debut CD is long overdue. This annoys the hell out of label head Bobby Starr (Dean Winters) who lambastes producer Midas (Victor Togunde) for not getting the job done. When Prolifik (Nelly) -- real name Clarence Eubanks. Hell, we'd change it, too -- busts in to Starr's office demanding more money, he's told to read his contract. No cash until the album is delivered, period. Starr's under the gun because he's promised the record to distributors, like, yesterday. He's also getting a number of calls from a certain Johnnie Marandino (Frank Vincent) who, as anyone with a movie IQ greater than 3 can tell you, is your friendly neighborhood mobster.
Triggs likes the taste of the red hot record life. He'd also like a taste of Ill's marketing director Cheryl (Zoe Saldana), but that ain't gonna happen. His best friend Malik has illusions of becoming a famous rapper like Prolifik. He's already got the money spent on a Lexus and a new house for his grandmother, though his demo is unfinished and he spends most of his free time sucking on a bong. Erik, himself dabbling with the street name "snipes," has been offered a management stake by Neeno (formerly Malik).
We should emphasize at this point that Erik is a straight shooter. He doesn't partee! He doesn't do drugs or drink or curse. His mom is gone but his dad, when they actually see face to face, is hard-assed about his son's habit of skipping school -- tacking up posters all night is a tiring business. Dad brought home an Application for Work for Erik to fill out. The wheels have been greased but Erik has no intention of spending his life sorting mail like pops. Pops tells him to fill out the application by the end of the weekend or get the hell out of the house.
With incentive like that, Erik steals the key for the label's recording studio, intending to get Malik/Neeno's demo finished.What they find in the studio is a freshly lit spliff, a lot of blood and a couple of bodies. They book but, in the process, our would be rapper leaves his tapes behind. From here on in, Men With Guns are after our pair, since Prolifik's master tapes have disappeared and Bobby Starr assumes that MalikNeeno is the culprit. When Starr can't get what he wants out of MalikNeenoDeadStonerOnThe Street, he comes gunning for Erik, threatening to chop Pops into doggie sized kibble. More than that we won't spill.
Except that, of all the characters we've met, Erik is the only one that isn't strapped. That means everyone else has a gun in their belt. That will change, in an unforeseen way, as the psychos and mafia men come up against the will of a man who really doesn't want to get snuffed for something he didn't do.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Snipes, he would have paid . . .
Snipes, a gangsta rapper murder mystery (once you shut off your obscenity filters) is a good sit. There's a helluva lot more humor in the piece than you'd guess from the nitty-gritty-ness of the above description.
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