Director: Mario Van Peebles
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles
They’re a new breed of gangster. The new public enemy. The new family of crime.
Nino Brown, the crime lord of the Cash Money Brothers has a plan to take over an entire apartment complex and start distributing crack cocaine to the citizens of New York. It doesn’t take long before he has a big amount of customers and big money piling in, making him even more dangerous and ruthless.
Local cops Scotty Appleton and Nick Peretti are given the mission to take down Nino Brown and his gang before they become untouchable. To bring Brown down, the cops get help from an unreliable and recently cleaned up crackhead named Pookie to go undercover into the Cash Money Brothers organization while wearing a wire.
New Jack City plays like a mixture between a regular gangster film and a film that tries to have some social commentary in it. The film would have benefited from either being a straight up dramatic telling of how crack affected the inner city or just played like a regular action film. It is the first film directed by Mario Van Peebles and the inexperience does show, but thankfully so does his knowledge of the inner city and enthusiasm that he brought to the project.
The film is cut in half with half the time being spent on the crime family of Nino Brown and the other on the cops who are trying to bring him down, before combining the two in the final part when the showdown between them takes place. Nino Brown is played by Wesley Snipes in what can probably be called his breakthrough part. The developement of the character is very inspired by Scarface, but the energy that Snipes brings to the character still makes him work and becomes an own persona. Some time is being spent on his second in command soldier Gee Money, played by Allen Payne, but I didn’t find that much interesting with that character and his purpose was more of less to show the rise of depravity of Nino Brown.
On the other side there’s Ice-T as Scotty, a ruthless cop who grew up in this environment and wants to do what he can to make his community a safer place. He is set up to be kind of an outcast of the police department and the same can be said about his gun happy new partner Nick Peretti, played by Judd Nelson. I would much more have prefered it if they didn’t have the Peretti character since I don’t think he adds much to the film and I would rather have more scenes with Ice-T and Chris Rock who played the crackhead Pookie.
The look of the film is very flashy and inspired by the rise of hip-hop of the era, which is also dominating the soundtrack. It does fit nicely with the action part of the film, but also takes away from the serious aspect of it.
And that’s again what irks me about this film. It had potential to become more than a good and entertaining action film, but fails to do so. It is still a very energetic and fun film, very much so do to the great performance by Wesley Snipes. It’s a film well worth seeing, although it is not as good as other famous gangster films from the early 90’s.