Director: Hype Williams
Starring: DMX, Nas, Hassan Johnson, Taral Hicks, Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins
Money, power, respect… but who’s got your back?
Tommy and Sincere are two childhood friends who grew up in the rough parts of New York and became big time gangsters. Sincere has started to lose his taste for the bloodshed that comes with the job and wants to focus more on his family and cut down on the unsafety of the lifestyle.
Tommy however is still going hard in the streets, trying to secure new hustles to add to his growing wealth. He makes connection with a big Jamaican drug dealer and secures himself a big amount of a new strong heroin time that are quickly becoming popular on the streets. Will Sincere continue to have Tommy’s back or will the friendship take an end when Tommy gets in deep over his head?
Belly is a very typical Scarface/Goodfellas inspired gangster flick that sets itself apart because it was made in perhaps the best time of commercial hip-hop, stars two of the biggest rappers from New York and was directed by the biggest music video director of the time – Hype Williams.
Williams did a lot of very flashy, big budget music videos that sparked the shiny suit with platinum bling bling look of the hip-hop videos of that era. He took the same visual approach to this film and it doesn’t translate that well in the film medium. It also didn’t help very much that the story is very muddy and sloppy told, perhaps also due to the problems they had on this production that went both over budget and had problems being done within the time that was set for it. Williams hasn’t gotten another chance to direct a full feature since this project.
They obviously wanted rappers to play the parts and took a chance on people who had never acted before, yet cast them in very similar roles to their real life personalities. DMX was, and still is, a very grimy hardcore street rapper while Nas has always been the guy who sits in his window and watches what the hardcore street thug will do and then write songs about it from his own perspective.
DMX plays Tommy Bundy and the role would eventually give him more work in Hollywood on bigger action films such as Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave. He has flaws with his acting here, but his natural charisma does come through the camera lens. Nas as Sincere however…. well, he just seem to be Nas in the film, not looking very comfortable in his part. The most comfortable rapper turned actor is Method Man in a minor part as Shameek, he is the complete opposite of Nas by enjoying every second in front of the camera and not letting it faze him.
The biggest quality of Belly is that it captures the look of hip-hop from 1998 and that will make it be a fun revisit in years to come. It’s biggest flaw lies in its shoddy narration and story, making the film not live up to its potential and become just another gangster film… although with its own visual look.