Rated R, 105 min. Directed by John Singleton. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund, Terrence Howard, Josh Charles, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Considering that its principals are models, rappers, and model-rappers – and given that it’s scripted by a freshman and the writer of The Watcher (Paul Lovett and David Elliot, respectively) – you might not expect much from this late-summer actioner, which is neither fast nor furious and is set in snowbound Detroit. (Though the snow is clean because what you see is mainly Toronto.) You’d be mistaken. The movie takes its time warming barstools and playing pick-up hockey, heavy on the hip-checks, in an attempt to establish Singleton’s characteristic dude-like neighborhood vibe, but it gets cooking all right, transforming into a surprisingly hardy revenge yarn. At its best this is grade-A pulp from the land of Elmore Leonard: cops on the take, informers flung out of housing-project windows and left broken-boned on the sidewalk, Marvin Gaye and Grover Washington Jr. on the soundtrack, car chases with disco strings and rusty American clunkers plowing through blizzard conditions. The humor is offhand and more effective than you’d think; the running gag is that the local crime boss (Ejiofor) and his toadies are family men. They humiliate a squealer by banishing him to the kids’ table (the setting is Thanksgiving), and a Volvo SUV stars in a sweet action set-piece that kicks the movie into gear. Also a family are the film’s vigilantes – Wahlberg, Gibson, the former André 3000, and Hedlund – all grown-up brothers adopted in their youth by a nice old lady (Fionnula Flanagan) recently murdered in a bodega robbery. The conceit occasions some truly dreadful flashbacks, and the brothers are but a shade different from one another (pun intended). In the movie’s biggest reach, poor Hedlund has been cast as a perpetually aspiring rock star – Billy Idol with Buster Poindexter’s hair – and he looks completely at sea. We gather he’s gay because Wahlberg is always teasing him about fellatio and hands him a tire tool instead of a shotgun when the brothers go into battle. Meanwhile, the family’s squarejohn (Benjamin) appears to us in overalls and plaid flannel. There’s nothing sophisticated about the story, in other words. This is the kind of scrappy Seventies-throwback B-movie that fits the bill when you desperately need to see regular-seeming, occasionally inept people rise up against our corrupt criminal oppressors and cudgel them with pool cues and bits of blasted-off brick. Certainly you don’t need me to tell you this is not for children, but there were a few in the audience, and I’ll bet they were scarred as I was by Death Wish.
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