A vivid telling of a familiar story — the rise and fall of a street criminal — bolstered by exceptional performances and a clear-eyed take on the economics of dealing and the pathology of ghetto fabulousness. Harlem, 1986. Local drug dealers Ace (Wood Harris), Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) and Rico (rapper Cam'ron) are shooting the breeze when Ace gets a call: His girlfriend, Keisha (Regina Hall), is having their baby. En route to the hospital, he's ambushed, shot and beaten within an inch of his life, and while lying semi-conscious on an emergency room gurney, Ace relives the whirlwind events of the past year. Though dealing is a fact of Harlem life, Ace steers clear, sweating for chump change at the neighborhood dry-cleaning store, until two events conspire to propel him into the business. Best friend Mitch, a genial hustler with a taste for fancy clothes and expensive wheels, is arrested and Ace makes the accidental acquaintance of high-level wholesaler Lulu (Esai Morales), who leaves a super-sized rock of coke in a pair of trousers he needs laundered. Mitch's absence leaves a vacuum on the streets, and Lulu, impressed when Ace returns his cocaine, offers to hook him up with a steady source of high-quality, low-hassle drugs. With his mother struggling and his sister in thrall to the sleazy Calvin (Kevin Carroll), who's buying his way into the family's affections with his own drug profits, Ace starts learning the business. He brings a naturally cautious nature to a business where flash and braggadocio are the downfall of many a player, and when Mitch gets out, Ace brings him into the fold. Unfortunately, Mitch comes with the volatile Rico, who did him a favor in jail; once Rico is on board, the trio's bad end is a foregone conclusion. Based in part on an autobiographical screenplay by '80s coke lord Azie Faison Jr., the film's strength lies in its gimlet-eyed depiction of the rites of ghetto celebrity. It captures the macho posturing, willful recklessness and casual disrespect for women (who in turn gleefully debase themselves) but reserves its harshest criticism for contemporary rappers who sell the thug life as a glamorous fantasy of "live flash, die young" romanticism. That this assured and accomplished film is the feature directing debut of Charles Stone III, the man behind the grating "Whassup!" Budweiser ads, is remarkable; that Damon Dash of Roc-a-Fella records produced it makes the film's casual skewering of rap pretensions all the more striking.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
- Review: A vivid telling of a familiar story — the rise and fall of a street criminal — bolstered by exceptional performances and a clear-eyed take on the economics of dealing and the pathology of ghetto fabulousness. Harlem, 1986. Local drug dealers Ace (Wood Harr… (more)