Title – New Jack City (1991)
Director – Mario Van Peebles (Red Sky)
Cast – Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Chris Rock, Judd Nelson, Vanessa Williams
Plot – Grizzled and street-wise detectives Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and Nick Peretti (Nelson) team up with drug-addict Pookie (Rock) to take down dominant New York City crime boss Nino Brown (Snipes) who has evaded law enforcement for far too long.
“You gotta rob to get rich in the Reagan era”
Review by Eddie on 02/06/2021
A wholeheartedly 90’s film that’s excesses are both strengths and weaknesses, Mario Van Peebles mid-tier hit has managed to stand the test of time these 30 years on from initial release with his endlessly quotable and sometimes downright righteously enjoyable crime thriller a blast to watch thanks to the energy and street smarts that lay at its core.
Directing his at the time first feature length film, Van Peebles throws subtilty out the window with his in your face exploration of the crime and drug pandemic in New York City in the late 80’s and early 90’s and there’s a constant no holds barred approach to everything that occurs as we follow Ice-T and Judd Nelson’s detectives, Chris Rock’s crack fiend no-hoper Pookie and Wesley Snipes bling covered Kangol wearing gangster Nino (“Am I my brothers keeper?”) Brown through a journey of good vs evil as the law has too bend the rules to stop Brown and his Cash Money Brothers gang from inflicting anymore pain on the apartment complex his taken over or the city he resides in.
Across a brisk sub-100 minute runtime, a runtime that in this case would’ve benefited from more fleshing out, particularly when it comes to the films rushed final act and underutilized plot points such as Brown’s ingenious drug operation that feels like it would be at home in a Dread comic, Peebles throws in typically squib heavy gunfights, more hip hop jams than a 90’s mixtape and copious amounts of scenery chewing from its cast that ensures this time capsule of a film is a genuine relic of its era that would never see the light of day as it stands if it were to be produced in this day and age.
Through all the over the top antics and stylistic flourishes there is a film with a message buried deep within and also a film with some unexpectedly great acting turns that in a more seriously tinged or directed film would’ve garnered significant acclaim.
In one of his earliest feature roles Chris Rock is convincing as the troubled and sad Pookie (an inspiration for The Wire’s famed Bubbles perhaps?) and its a great experience seeing his early work on show here while Ice-T is having a blast as the tough as nails Scotty Appleton who gets to go toe to toe with an on-song Wesley Snipes who is relishing every minute he gets in the spotlight as the nefarious and cold-blooded Brown, a modern day Tony Montana that will grasp for the American Dream at all costs.
As a whole this is a flaw-filled and sometimes downright poorly executed exercise but there are also ample moments of creativity, spark and greatness and as a telling example of 90’s Hollywood, New Jack City stands out from a crowded crime crowd.
Final Say –
There’s little chance we would get a film like New Jack City in today’s movie-making age but this over the top and imperfect ride is an undeniably fun watch that has managed to create quite the name for itself over the last 30 years and deservedly so.
3 Kangol hats out of 5