NEW JACK CITY (1991)
Rating: 3.5 on 4 / Buy the DVD here
Tagline: They're a new breed of gangster. The new public enemy. The new family of crime.
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Starring Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Judd Nelson, Mario Van Peebles, and Chris Rock
THE PLAN: A small time drug dealer by the name of Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) rises to the top after discovering the profitability of selling crack to his neighborhood in New York. To bring him down, two cops (Ice-T and Judd Nelson) go undercover in a sting operation, using an ex-crackhead (Chris Rock) as their way in. But as with any situation that deals with crack, shit hits the fan and things go wrong very quickly.
THE KILL: The early ‘90s was kind of a crazy time. Pop culture was transitioning from the happy-go-lucky time of the ‘80s to the more serious and straight-edged time of the ‘90s, from pastel-colored pop music to hardcore gangster rap. And while the music got better, the styles were still hideous—and the perfect vehicle to see these styles at play has to be NEW JACK CITY, the gritty crime thriller that changed Ice-T’s status from rapper to rapper/actor, that labeled Mario Van Peebles as a director to reckon with, and that set a name for Wesley Snipes, a badass motorscooter who had the acting chops to prove it. And at the heart of the start-studded cast and seediness of the NYC underground was the all-too-reel revelation of how crack was destroying the country, one neighborhood at a time.
Not only is NEW JACK CITY a time capsule into the early ‘90s, it’s also a solid action thriller with heroes that aren’t all-together honest and a villain that you love to hate. Beyond being a PSA to the crack problem festering the country at the time, there’s some pretty solid action sequences, a “f*ck me? No, f*ck you” attitude, and a glimpse at NYC that films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION never had a chance of showing us before. Sure, cocaine and heroin have always been at the forefront of cop thrillers, but those were white people problems; NEW JACK CITY brought a new drug problem to the table, one of which hadn’t been exploited before because it was an issue in the black community, and one that hadn’t been brought to the attention of the popular movie going audience before.
But enough with the political and social power of NEW JACK CITY—let’s dive into the action because that’s we’re here, right? From the elaborate foot chase between Ice-T and Chris Rock in the beginning to the raid on the crack house downtown, the flick offers some seriously heavy action sequences that all bring the level of “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality to the table. Ice-T and Judd Nelson may be cops, but they’re a shady duo, of which are motivated to bring change to the city by any means necessary. They also f*cking hate each other’s guts. It’s funny, the black cop / white cop thing had been done to death before with LETHAL WEAPON and 48 HRS., and yet these two somehow make it fresh and make it not so damned clichéd. For all purposes, the dynamics between Ice-T and Nelson are how a real partnership of opposites would really play out—they have respect, but there’s no way they’re gonna be buddy-buddy anytime soon.
And what’s a good action flick without a good villain—and NEW JACK CITY offers one of the best. We think of Wesley Snipes nowadays as a dude with serious financial problems and one that stars in boatloads of STD action flicks—a joke, in other words. But his performance as Nino Brown, the drug dealer turned kingpin is one of the most hardcore and powerful performances ever, and illustrates just what a talented mofo Snipes used to be. I mean, seriously, that guy was the f*ckin’ man and he brought his A game to NEW JACK CITY, creating a character that was cool and collected, but also happened to be a raging sociopath of which you would never want to be on his bad side. Ever. No matter if you were his closest friend or just some punk off the street, Nino Brown would easily put you in a body bag if you looked at him wrong—and that’s the scariest kind of villain there is: totally unpredictable.
Throw in a great performance by Chris Rock as a cracker-ass crackhead named Pookie, the tough-as-nails detective Mario Van Peebles, and Snipes crew of business savy drug dealers, and you have a pretty solid movie that also just happens to be down and dirty, filled with plenty of gratuitous violence, a kickin’ soundtrack, and cameos by some of the bigger rap stars of the time (Flava Flave in the house!). The action is strong when it needs to be, the acting is top-notch, and it doesn’t ever hold back—it’s gritty and in your face all the way through. Plus, you can’t beat that sweet early ‘90s gangsta rap soundtrack. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend it—and if you have, it’s time to revisit and take a stroll back down memory lane.
Trailer for NEW JACK CITY!
TOP DEATH: Maybe not the most spectacular death or the most hardcore, but the when Wesley Snipes and his right-hand man drop a dude off a bridge in the very beginning for being short a few bucks... it's pretty effed up! "See ya wouldn't want to be ya!"
TOP ACTION SCENE: There's a sweet shoot-out at a church post-wedding that has plenty of bullets flying, slo-mo action, a staggering body count, and Wesley Snipes using an 8 year old girl as a human shield.
TOP HOMOEROTIC MOMENT: Nino Brown and Gee Money have quite the relationship, with lots of hugging and crying and "brotherly" love going on between them. Not to mention the underlying sexual tension between Ice-T and Judd Nelson... sure, they argue and act like they hate each other, but sometimes I wondered...
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: There's a big booty ho who gets between Brown and Money and whose later used as a leveraging point between the two. There's a few boobs here and there sprinkled throughout, enough to keep you interested at least.
Nino Brown: Money talks, and bullshit runs a marathon. So, see ya and I wouldn't want to be ya.
Nino Brown: Sit your five-dollar ass down before I make change.
DRINKING GAME: Every time you have a flashback of early 90s gangsta rap, you gotta drink!
TRIVIA: This was Mario Van Peeble's directorial debut, of which Ice-T almost past on starring in because of his hatred for the police and the possibility of having an ill-effect on his rap career.