Film Review: Who’s the Man? (1993)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1993
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Seth Greenland, Doctor Dré, Ed Lover
Music by: Michael Wolff, Nic. tenBroek, various
Cast: Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Badja Djola, Cheryl “Salt” James, Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, Terrence Howard, Richard Gant, Guru, Ice-T, Larry Cedar, Jim Moody, Joe Lisi, Karen Duffy, Roger Robinson, Richard Bright, Rozwill Young, Vincent Pastore, Caron Bernstein, Kim Chan, Ken Ober, B-Real, Ad-Rock, Apache, Bow-Legged Lou, Bushwick Bill, Busta Rhymes, Chi-Ali, CL Smooth, Pete Rock, Del the Funkee Homosapien, D-Nice, Dres, Eric B., Fab 5 Freddy, Flavor Flav, Freddie Foxxx, Heavy D, House of Pain, Humpty Hump, Kid Capri, Kris Kross, KRS-One, Leaders of the New School, Melle Mel, Monie Love, Naughty by Nature, Penny Hardaway, Phife Dawg, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Scottie Pippen, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, Stretch, Yo Yo, Da Youngsta’s

De Passe Entertainment, Thomas Entertainment, New Line Cinema, ,,, Minutes

Review:

“You fucked me! You fucked me! You might as well kiss me ’cause you’re fucking me!” – Sgt. Cooper

I’m one of the few people that saw this in the theater back in 1993 and honestly, I’m one of the few that saw it in my theater, as there were only three of us on opening night.

Still, I was stoked to see it, as I was a weekly viewer of Yo! MTV Raps at the time and the thought of Ed Lover and Doctor Dré in their own movie featuring dozens of rappers had my fourteen year-old self pretty damn excited.

The film also features Fab 5 Freddy and T-Money from Yo!, as well as some top up and coming comedians from the era like Bernie Mac, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn.

Now this isn’t specifically a well acted movie but it doesn’t need to be, as it is a buddy cop comedy made to appeal to teenagers that had a love of hip-hop. That being said, Lover and Dré were great, their chemistry shined through and their comedic timing was superb.

In a lot of ways, I saw the duo as their generation’s Abbott & Costello but unfortunately, they weren’t able to do anymore movies beyond this one. That’s kind of a shame, as they would’ve only gotten better but at the same time, Yo! MTV Raps was cancelled only two years later, ending a great era for hip-hop fans, which I feel had a lasting negative impact on hip-hop music going forward.

What makes this so fun to watch, especially now, is that it shows me how pure hip-hop still was in 1993 before it devolved into the overly corporate bullshit it became. This came out in a time where rappers still had real shit to say and a lot of the music was simply about having a good time or expressing positive messages. Sure, we all love the gangsta shit too but this film mainly features the East Coast side of the classic hip-hop era at its peak. There’s something magical about seeing all these guys in their prime, many of whom we have lost since then.

The bulk of the story revolves around Lover and Dré being failed barbers and having to join the police force to pay their rent. What they don’t know is that there is a sinister scheme afoot in their part of Harlem that leads to their beloved mentor and father figure being murdered for his real estate. This sets the pair off on trying to solve the mystery, even though they aren’t detectives and the police force doesn’t want them to be anything more than basic beat cops.

Along the way, they run into countless rappers, some of which have larger roles and most of which just have cameos. What’s weird about adding all these rappers in is that none of it seems forced or out of place. All the cameos are well handled and it’s kind of amazing that they actually got so many people in this movie.

The film is directed by the late Ted Demme, who was instrumental in bringing Yo! MTV Raps to the small screen. He would go on to direct a pretty good handful of films before his death, most notably Blow.

Additionally, this is written by Lover and Dré, which is probably why everything feels so natural, as they essentially play themselves in the film and they already head good relationships with all the other people in the movie, specifically the dozens of rappers.

This certainly isn’t a movie that’s going to resonate with those outside of my generation, who didn’t already have a love for East Coast hip-hop of the early ’90s, but it’s still pretty funny and these guys had incredible charisma and natural chemistry.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other hip-hop comedies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Gunmen (1993)

Release Date: May 21st, 1993 (Hungary)
Directed by: Deran Sarafian
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, Patrick Stewart, Kadeem Hardison, Sally Kirkland, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Frost, Rakim, Eric B., Doctor Dré, Ed Lover

Davis Entertainment, Gary Gunmen Productions, Dimension Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Put the gun down? Put the gun down? I’m gonna put the gun down your fuckin’ throat!” – Dani Servigo

Gunmen is one of those ’90s action films that probably should have been a straight-to-video release but actually got a brief theatrical run. It wasn’t successful and sort of just came and went very quickly. While it’s not a very good movie, it is still decent and has a pretty solid early ’90s cast. Plus, it has cameos from a lot of legitimately good rappers from the era.

This is a buddy movie, where you never know when and if the buddies will turn on each other while seeking out the money they’re on the hunt for. They are also on the run from a drug kingpin’s minions, who also want the money for themselves. The buddies are played by Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles. The drug kingpin is played by Patrick Stewart with his top minion being Denis Leary. Like I said, it’s an interesting and kind of cool cast.

For the most part, the film is fun but it also has a plot that just seems to be all over the place. It’s not well written and if it wasn’t for the charismatic cast, this film would be completely forgettable. It’s also minimal on the action. For something called Gunmen, I expected a movie similar to The Expendables or Predator without the alien or Commando with more than one buff badass.

The film does have a lot of good stunts though. There just wasn’t enough shoot’em up stuff for a film with a title that implies such. In fact, I don’t think Gunmen is an accurate title. And the poster implies a squad of badasses. But alas, we get a duo with a little help from Kadeem Hardison (a.k.a. Dwayne Wayne from A Different World).

I did like the location shooting and the look of the picture was good. It had a grittiness to it and where it was high octane, it really went for the gusto. I just wish it had more of those moments.

The finale was decent but nothing exceptional. The last twenty minutes of the film are the best, so at least it built towards something and delivered.

But ultimately, this is a run-of-the-mill ’90s action flick without a lot of flourish or much of anything to set it apart from the pack. But I really loved Leary and Stewart in this.

Lambert and Van Peebles would go on to co-star together in the third Highlander movie a year later.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Mean GunsPosseHighlander: The Final Dimension, Survivng the Game and Who’s the Man?

Film Review: Juice (1992)

Also known as: Angel Town 2 (Europe video title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1992
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Ernest R. Dickerson, Gerard Brown
Music by: Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad
Cast: Omar Epps, Tupac Shakur, Jermaine Hopkins, Khalil Kain, Cindy Herron, Vincent Laresca, Samuel L. Jackson, George O. Gore II, Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dre, Ed Lover, Donald Faison, Oran “Juice” Jones, Special Ed, EPMD (Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith)

Island World, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You gotta snap some collars and let them motherfuckers know you here to take them out anytime you feel like it! You gotta get the ground beneath your feet, partner, get the wind behind your back and go out in a blaze if you got to! Otherwise you ain’t shit! You might as well be dead your damn self!” – Bishop

Any film that opens with a Rakim song is going to get me pumped up. Juice opens up with the best Rakim song, so I was hooked right away.

Truth be told, this was a favorite film of mine during my middle school years. It came out at the very beginning of the black film movement that happened in the ’90s. This, along with New Jack CityBoyz N The Hood and Menace II Society made a huge cultural impact and for good reason.

Watching it now, I do notice some of the weaknesses of the film, which weren’t as apparent in my younger days.

A big part of the narrative towards the end of the movie has to do with how the gun crazy Bishop (Shakur) is pinning his killings and crimes on his ex-best friend Q (Epps). While Bishop gets his just desserts and Q survives, it’s left unknown what the outcome really was. Was Q in trouble? Would he still be punished for these crimes? Or would his other friend Steel, who survived an attempt on his life, be able to save his friend. While Steel mentions that Bishop is setting up Q to a nurse that is their friend, you don’t know if he survives his trip to the ER. I guess it is to be assumed that it worked out okay but after Bishop’s death, the film ends abruptly.

Another issue I have with the narrative, is that it doesn’t really develop Bishop’s power trip enough. Sure, having a gun is power but it is pretty one-dimensional in how it is handled. Also, the group of friends, who skip school and steal records, still feel like decent kids. The plot shifting to them all of a sudden deciding to rob a corner store just happens out of nowhere.

Still, shaky narrative aside, the film is an adrenaline rush, especially over the course of the last act.

It is well acted by all important parties in the film. Epps and Shakur are pretty exceptional and both men were incredibly young in this. In fact, this was what brought Tupac into the mainstream for most people. He was given an opportunity, ran with it and did great.

The film is very stylistic and represents early ’90s east coast hip-hop well. There are also cameos from several known rappers and hip-hop personalities besides Tupac: Queen Latifah, Treach, Special Ed, EPMD and from Yo! MTV Raps, Ed Lover, Doctor Dre and Fab 5 Freddy. You also get to see Samuel Jackson in an early role, just before he broke out as a star in 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

I also love that they focused a lot on Q’s quest to make it as a respected DJ in the super competitive New York City landscape. The movie does a good job of showcasing what DJ battles were like at the time, when DJs still mixed manually and didn’t have computers and gadgets to make their lives infinitely easier.

Juice is gritty and has a strong feeling of realism to it. Plus, it has a lot of energy and a great soundtrack.

Rating: 7.75/10