Never Die Alone
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. Starring DMX, Michael Ealy, David Arquette, Antwon Tanner, Drew Sidora, Jennifer Sky. (2004, R, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 26, 2004
What the hell happened to Ernest R. Dickerson? Once the genius cinematographer behind Spike Lee’s greatest films (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X), he has in the past decade branched off to direct his own movies, with generally weak results. 1992’s Juice was the sole exception, which was in turn followed by the mediocre horror shows Demon Knight and Bones, but this new gangsters-in-the-hood tale, based on the cult novel by Donald Goines, is just plain awful in every regard. It’s as though someone had handed Dickerson a list of every known hip-hop hoodlum cliché and dared him to cobble together a film from 17 different flavors of shit. Sadly, Dickerson accepted the challenge, and Never Die Alone – which had other members of the audience laughing out loud while this reviewer strove instead to morph into a Jujube or similar nonsentient bonbon – is exasperatingly lousy, so much so that it borders on the hallowed "so bad it’s good" territory of films like Showgirls and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that bad, chiefly because when its not busy being a misogynistic, dull-witted bore, it’s tossing out head-scratcher dialogue (at one point, badboy DMX finishes boffing his coked-out girlfriend and tells her, "I’ve never felt this close to anyone before – except my mother"), and just plain bad acting, camerawork (courtesy of Matthew Libatique, who keeps the grainy, dark feel of a poorly lit Super-8 running throughout), and even scoring. The plot has Jewish hack writer Arquette unraveling the post-mortem life of vile drug lord King David (DMX, who admittedly does badass like a pro), a villain so amoral he gets his kicks sodomizing his strung-out collegiate girlfriend (Reagan Gomez-Preston) while watching himself in the mirror. Narrated by the decedent, the film also has a shockingly unshocking film noir plot twist involving tangled lineages and a whole raft of cheap and eminently predictable story skeins that go nowhere faster than David Arquette’s career. When it’s not busy seeming like every other hip-hop parable ever made, Dickerson’s film is wallowing in the kind of "bitches and ho’s" misogyny that – even when it’s coming from a nasty character like King David – makes you wonder about the filmmaker’s own feelings on the subject. If Never Die Alone had even a smidgeon of comic relief (or even, say, a bunch of zombies) to offset some of its relentlessly downbeat brutality, it might have been at best tolerable. But it doesn’t, and it’s not.