Friday, February 22, 2013

BELLY (1998)



Written & Directed By: Hype Williams
Story By: Nas, Hype Williams & Anthony Bodden
Director Of Photography: Malik Hassan Sayeed
Edited By: David Leonard
Cast: Nas, DMX, T-Boz, Method Man, Power, Tyrin Turner, Taral Hicks, Frank Vincent, Kurt Loder
Tommy Brown and his friend Sincere are gangsters who have learned how to make a good living by dealing drugs and pulling armed robberies. Tommy and Sincere have been able to move out of the ghetto in Queens where they were raised and relocate to an upscale section of Manhattan; they would seem to have it made, but both realize that their lives are headed toward a dead end. Sincere begins getting in touch with his African roots and tries to convince his girlfriend Tionne that they should emigrate to the Motherland, while Tommy has a religious awakening and joins the Nation of Islam.

The film seems to have a grand vision, but a small story and limited budget. The film feels like essentially a ninety minute rap music video. A bad ninety minute rap music video. This might have been the film that started the saying "all style no substance". Where as there is no denying hype Williams has tremendous talent as a director. He has unbelievably rich saturated visuals inventive angles and shots. but as a writer he leaves a lot to be desired.

If that wasn't bad enough it is hard to believe it took three people to come up with the barely there storyline. Were they just sitting around playing video games together and in between the levels they wrote down a idea. After three days this is what they came up with. After all while watching this film I got confused by the plot, some characters and their motivations that just either disappear or make no sense at all. Like a pop art film or a 90’s version of a Andy Warhol film. It looks beautiful the visuals are rich and eye popping, but everything else is bad. It’s like a supermodel great to look at, but not very deep or much to say.

The film seems to glamorize all things notorious If this film is remembered at all is that it is a nostalgic look at a time in hip hop. One of the few that actually made it into theaters. It involves many popular rappers at the time starring in the film together. It can be seen as a 90’sblaxploitation hood movie as it more exploits stereotypes, violence and the nihilism of the street-life. While at the end tries to go out on redemptive positive note. This film is just depressing to experience no real positivity at all when there is some or at least some type of message. It is soon given short shrift and forgotten by the next scene.

You can see the director’s ideas but while having crystal clear clarity with his visuals. He seems not to know entirely how to express his thoughts in the story. The most inventive thing in this movie was having frank Vincent. a man who usually plays mobsters or villians here is playing a government agent his appearance in this film is always incomprehensible. You never get a good look at him but you recognize the voice. So you know he is there. While director Hype Williams lives up to his first name with this film proves to be a visual stylist coming from the music video world he seems to need to learn how a story works for longer then five minutes and maintain themes, motivation and story. He is a director I would have liked to see given another chance make a film all the wiser and see the results as I believe he could do it. There are rich colors off kilter but defining looks and styles for each character. The ever present fish eyed lens camera shots a favorite of the director.

The plot is two friends who are drug dealers come up with a major supplier but they trespass on another dealers property. DMX Then has to do an assassination for the supplier, for his protection. BuT the man DMX kills is a protected made man. So they come after all of them. They're supplier is killed first in a scene ripped off from most rappers favorite film: Scarface. DMX makes a deal with the government to stay out of jail and to protect him. But he must kill a powerful black minister. Meanwhile Nas tries to survive the streets while planning to run away with his share of the money to the safe motherland that is modern day Africa. Exactly!!!

DMX plays his role believably so much that he got more acting work after this. He truly inhabits his character with a menacing viciousness. While Nas gives a horrible performance. He seems not to be able to really act. It seems that the same thing that works for Nas as a rapper. His image as a thug prophet works with his monotone delivery showing no emotion because nothing can affect him works against him as an actor. When everything is about emotion and reaction.

The actresses in this film are integral to the story but are barely given any real characters to play or many scenes to be in. Along the way there is one subject that is touched upon that I found interesting. DMX's girlfriend is a gold-digger who he openly cheats on but she is happy as long as she has the finer things in life. Then the cops raid the place she lives at while hiding the drugs at her place. So she gets locked up for possession and doesn't rat on him taking the rap for her man. Who she knows doesn't love her nor makes any attempt to get her out. Maybe if that was explored a little more it could have been interesting. Then a little less of the gun battles and flossing of expensive things. This film would have been better more intriguing then a wannabe gangster epic of miniscule proportions which if they would have done their homework they would have noticed do have gun battles and flashy things but are also well plotted and very dialogue driven things again this movie seriously lacks.

At the very least. we could have seen Nas in africa (Which is a interesting movie title) so we can see Mr. Williams illuminate it. I have to say the acting runs from horrible to passable no good or outstanding performances.

The ladies can act so can method man DMX is sort of playing himself and Nas just looks like he couldn't have been bothered to put up an effort. to show the logic of this film. In one scene a guy from the criminal crew is beaten by DMX and he swears his revenge on Nas. Even though he had nothing to do with him being beat.

GRADE: D

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