Film Review: CB4 (1993)

Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Music by: John Barnes, various
Cast: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliott, Charlie Murphy, Khandi Alexander, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Willard E. Pugh, Rachel True, Richard Gant, Stoney Jackson, J.D. Daniels, LaWanda Page, Tommy Davidson (uncredited), Shirley Hemphill (cameo), Issac Hayes (cameo), Ice-T (cameo), Halle Berry (cameo), Ice Cube (cameo), Flavor Flav (cameo), Shaquille O’Neal (cameo), Eazy-E (cameo), Butthole Surfers (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.” – Albert, Sr.

When I reviewed Fear of a Black Hat several months ago, I brought up how similar these two movies were and how one may be ripping off the other. I also said that I preferred that one slightly but now, after revisiting CB4 for the first time in quite a long time, this picture just slightly takes the cake.

I think that over time, my memories downplayed how clever this movie was. While Fear of a Black Hat is more gritty and certainly more indie, CB4 feels like it has a better grasp on the material and it is much more refined and is a better complete body of work.

While some of the jokes and gags, almost thirty years later, may be over some people’s heads now, I still think that this aged well and it carries a good positive message. The gist of what the film tries to communicate is still very apparent, despite outdated references to a time when rap music was much better than whatever this modern mumble rap garbage is today.

Chris Rock was great in this and I have to say, it’s my favorite picture where he is the star. He’s relatable, he’s likable and his character is very human despite getting lost in the glamour, glitz and bullshit of trying to make it in the early ’90s rap game. Ultimately, even if his spirit is corrupted, it’s the goodness within himself (and his two best friends) that wins out and makes things right in the end.

One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. While most of it is parody of what was the gangsta rap of its era, it’s all really damn good. I actually owned the soundtrack in my teen years and used to bump it quite regularly.

Even though this came out very early in Chris Rock’s career, I still feel as if it is his magnum opus as an actor, comedian and writer. Sure, he’s always been funny but something about CB4 just felt like it was real personal for him and it’s something that truly comes out when you watch the film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: a movie that’s very similar, Fear of a Black Hat.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Film Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

Release Date: October 18th, 1991
Directed by: David Kellogg
Written by: David Stenn
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Michael Gross, Deezer D, Naomi Campbell, Sydney Lassick

Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, whackhead tried to play baseball with my homeboy’s bike!” – Johnny

I remember seeing the trailer for this thing when I was a middle school aged kid sitting in a theater waiting for something better to start. Granted, I don’t remember what that film was but it certainly wasn’t Cool as Ice.

I remember people telling me how shitty this film was. I never had the urge to see it and I was never a fan of Vanilla Ice. I was listening to N.W.A., Ice Cube, Public Enemy and a lot of thrash metal at the time.

Because of my influences, I thought Vanilla Ice was just some cream puff wannabe. Besides, how could he possibly top his performance of “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Then I noticed that there was a RiffTrax version of the movie streaming for free for Amazon Prime members. I thought, “What the hell, why not? It’s only an hour and a half and I can listen to those guys riff anything.”

I’m glad that I watched the movie. Is it bad? Oh, yes. It is straight 90s cheese of the worst kind and looking at this thing in 2017 re-familiarizes me with the worst things pop culture had to offer at the time. I’m not knocking Vanilla Ice per se, I am knocking the film in its style, its tone, its dialogue, its acting and its plot.

The story sees a wannabe bad ass with a heart of shit roll into a small town with his homies on their obnoxiously 90s motorcycles. One of the bikes breaks down and Vanilla Ice is stuck in Boringsville, U.S.A. He falls for some preppy brainy white chick and steals her personal notebook because he’s obviously a creep. However, it turns the girl on but not as much as Ice forcing her to dance and then pressing her to the floor as he gyrates on top of her in front of the whole town. Her boyfriend gets angry. Ice and the boyfriend have some fight and creeper Vanilla breaks the guys nose but he’s a douche too so my only concern is that the girl has really shitty taste in fellas. Michael Gross from Family Ties plays the girl’s dad and he’s not a super bad ass like he is in Tremors. In the end, I guess Vanilla Ice is okay though, as he saves the girl’s weirdo little brother from the crooked cops that kidnapped him.

The majority of the film is just there to show how cool Vanilla Ice is. His coolness is quite dated however and one has to question, how was he cool in the first place? I guess by the time that this film came out, it was already too late for Ice, as it was a financial and critical failure. It didn’t even cover a quarter of its small budget during its theatrical run. The director has also since disowned the movie.

Some good came out if it however, as the director of photography Janusz Kamiński would go on to be the cinematographer on Schindler’s ListSaving Private Ryan and Minority Report. And honestly, Cool as Ice had some good visual elements.

Unfortunately, a big bulk of the film was made up of pointless musical montages of Ice riding his motorcycle through the desert or posing like a lazy model on a couch that looked like it was stolen from the Max on Saved by the Bell.

Cool as Ice, however, is strangely entertaining. Obviously not in the way that was intended but there is a quaint cuteness to it. For a film deeply submerged in its own flaws, somehow a bit of heart does come through. Just a bit, though.

Also, the music isn’t horrible. Ice’s songs aren’t very good but the rest of the soundtrack is made up of new jack swing tunes that fit the movie’s era. I’ve always liked new jack swing, so I was cool with the overall use of music in the picture.

I don’t hate Cool as Ice, as many before me do. It’s a bad and strange film but it is a great time capsule for an era that I’m glad to see is several decades behind us now. Not that today’s pop culture is any better, though. Eh… maybe Vanilla Ice wasn’t so bad.

Rating: 4.5/10