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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 100 Minutes
• Commentary by director/co-star Mario Van Peebles
• NJC: A Hip-Hop Classic
• Harlem World: A Walk Inside
• The Road to New Jack City
• Music videos: New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme) by Ice T, I’m Dreamin’ by Christopher Williams, and I Wanna Sex You Up by Color Me Badd
• Theatrical trailer
So here I am reviewing the new Special Edition of New Jack City when it occurs to me that, for the most part, this is about the only theatrical black gangster film to come along the pike in recent memory. Notice I use the term gangster and not gangsta. There’s been a ton of gangsta films – hell it seems half the black films to come out in the last decade or so have been gangsta films. Or if you prefer the technical term, urban. I’ve even worked on one or two myself.
– Nino Brown
Once all that bullshit with Frost, Nomak and Drake was handled, Blade finally got around to the serious business of pimpin’ hos…
The dictionary refers to a “gangster” as a member of an organized group of criminals or a racketeer and a “gangsta” as the slang form of the same word usually pertaining to a member of a gang. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that gangster usually refers to the mob or criminals in the tradition of Capone and Bugsy Siegel, and gangsta is almost exclusively associated with black or rap culture. So in terms of movies, The Godfather is a gangster film (actually it’s the gangster film). Boyz N the Hood is a gangsta film. Goodfellas is a gangster film. Juice is a gangsta film. Scarface is a gangster film. Menace II Society is a gangsta film. New Jack City, however, is a gangster film…only with a gangsta flavor.
"I love black people, but I hate ni- oh shit, I’m playing one here…uh nevermind…"
Having mentioned such notable films as Boyz N the Hood, Juice and Menace to Society, New Jack City could be considered the movie that started off the trend of urban theatrical films of the early to mid-‘90s. It also started more trends than that, because it was one of the first films to feature a rapper, Ice-T, in a major starring role, especially as something other than a gang member, pimp or some other black stereotype. And it was where Wesley Snipes really got to break out and create one of his most memorable characters to date. Aside from the Blade movies, there’s probably not another of his roles that I enjoy as much as Nino Brown. I’m actually kind of surprised that New Jack isn’t as widely regarded by the black and hip hop culture as much as Scarface is. This is not to say that New Jack
is on the level of that film, but it was very much patterned after it
while being set in a black milieu. It was also notable because it was
Mario Van Peebles’ first theatrical film.
– Nino Brown
"Damn, I’m glad the ’70s are over, man. I just couldn’t hang with them crazy hairdos…"
Snipes is Nino Brown, a Harlem hustler and drug dealer who seizes upon the crack boom of the mid-‘80s that overran the country and New York in particular. Along with Gee Money (Allen Payne), the stuttering muscle, Duh Duh Man (Bill Nunn), the homicidal Keisha (Vanessa Williams) and the rest of his Cash Money Brothers, Nino fashions a crime empire for himself by taking over the Carter, a Harlem housing project and revolutionizing the way drugs are bought and sold.
– Nino Brown
"Oooooh, I wanna sex you up."
- Every felon on D-Block
Using mob-like tactics, including bumping off a local Rasta in broad daylight and parading another local crime boss around Harlem in the altogether with a shotgun to his head, it’s not long before Nino is the top crime figure in the city, a fact which the resident Italians don’t take too kindly to. With Nino’s great power comes the great responsibility of watching his ass at all times from the mob on one side and the cops on another. But Nino’s power also goes to his head and he soon begins to alienate everyone around him, especially Gee Money, whom he constantly embarrasses and belittles. This includes taking Gee Money’s girl for his own.
– Nino Brown
Charged with stopping Nino and his crew is Detective Stone (Van Peebles), who recruits maverick cop from the hood, Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and the equally crazy Det. Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson in his best role since Rodimus Prime). Appleton enlists Pookie (a young Chris Rock), a crackhead he formerly busted in a drug sting. Pookie goes undercover in Nino’s organization and gets the cops further inside Nino’s world than they had managed to get before. But it’s not long before the pressure gets to Pookie and he’s back on the glass dick, which will eventually prove to be his downfall.
Turns out the new Harlem Space Mountain was quite the hit…
Nino’s humiliation of Gee Money is never more pronounced than when Pookie and the cops bring down his operation at the Carter Projects, but Pookie is killed in the process. From there on, Nino goes into a Tony Montana-style tailspin of excess and this leads Gee Money to begin scheming against him. Things aren’t great on the legal side of the coin either as Appleton tries to deal with his guilt over Pookie’s death and Stone is forced to shut down the operation of capturing Nino. Appleton and Feretti decide to go it alone and set themselves up as a new drug connection for Nino by going through Gee Money. Appleton exploits Gee Money’s growing dislike of Nino and soon gets on Nino’s good side. But Appleton unexpectedly has to keep his cool when he finds out the truth about how his mother was killed.
– Nino Brown
Flavor Flav circa 1986: "Damn, that Stallone’s a lucky man…"
Eventually, things hit the fan when the mob stages a hit on Nino during a wedding. Nino goes Michael Corleone on them back and then sets about trying to rebuild his empire. But that plan is wasted when Appleton is uncovered during a drug buy and this leads to a huge firefight that Nino barely escapes. This leads to him having to settle things with Gee Money and go on the run before the cops, particularly Appleton, finally catch up with him.
What particularly strikes me about New Jack City is the amount of stuff it packs into 100 minutes. You get much of the bang of the great classic gangster films previously mentioned, and it doesn’t take three hours to get it because New Jack keeps the pace moving. Van Peebles successfully weaves a great deal of plot into the framework of this tale and the characters all fulfill their roles nicely. It was written by Thomas Lee Wright in pretty much his only major credit and Barry Michael Cooper, who also wrote another Snipes film, the finely-made Sugar Hill, as well as the 1994 Tupac movie, Above the Rim, but strangely nothing else since.
"Goddamn, man! Where your fingers been?"
– Gee Money
What particularly stands out in New Jack City is that there’s no mistaking that this is Snipes’ movie, as he owns practically every seen he’s in. Nino Brown is a charismatically vicious bastard, yet he still stops to enjoy the nicer things in life like finely (or badly as is the case in retrospect) tailored suits, bottles of expensive champagne, and hos out the yin yang. He’s nearly matched on the flipside by Ice-T, who pretty much gave his best performance here also. I also liked him in Surviving the Game. Ice-T’s amassed a staggering number of film and TV credits since New Jack. He eventually settled in at Law & Order: SVU as another detective, Fin Tutuola and apparently is doing well, considering he’s been there for five years.
"Yo, first you got to get the money, then you got to get the power, then you got to get the 20-inch rims on the Mercedes, then you got to get the shoe deal, then you got to get the bling bling, then you got to get the five-bedroom house, then you got to get the charge account at Bloomingdales, then you got to get the mutual funds, before you get the women…"
I’m also caught by the number of cameos in New Jack. Everyone from Keith Sweat, to Guy, Flavor Flav, Fab Five Freddy and Nick Ashford. And if you can get Levert to do a number as a street group around a burning trashcan, then you know you’re pimpin’. Some future talent also came out of this film including Michael Michele and Vanessa Williams (The Right Stuff? Uh uh, not the one with the singing career – a little Digital Underground there for you), but none so more than Chris Rock. And in addition to Ice-T, they cast R&B singer Christopher Williams in a role (but he really wasn’t all that great to tell the truth). Having all of that musical talent on hand paid off, because the soundtrack to this movie was number one on several charts and is chock full of big hits from back in the day, including I Wanna Sex You Up by early ‘90s supergroup, Cornhole Me Badd.
– Gee Money
If I had to compare New Jack City to the other movies of its type that it helped usher in, I’d say it’s right below Boyz N the Hood yet above everything else, although I love Menace to Society. But as the ‘90s wore on and the new millennium came crashing through, the gangsta film very much got played out, although you’d never know it by the number of them that still come out in the urban direct-to-video market. But I’d say nine out of every ten of those films couldn’t wash Nino Brown’s puffy suits.
8.6 out of 10
"New Jack City? I thought I was here to talk about my next film, The Cabin Next Door to the Cabin By the Lake…"
Awesome. I had the original release of the film and the transfer didn’t appear half as sharp as it does here. All of the bad hairstyles, padded jackets, berets and gold chains never looked better.
9.2 out of 10
This is where the disc really shines. New Jack City featured a #1 soundtrack and it’s booming here in Dolby 5.1. You can sit back, hear Color Me Badd and think, “Man this is gay but it sure sounds great.”
9.5 out of 10
"I know it was you, Goyer! You broke my heart! You broke my heart!"
There’s a good commentary by Mario Van Peebles. He gets into the nitty gritty of how the whole thing came together and his enthusiasm for this, his first movie, still comes through. This disc screamed for Wesley Snipes and/or Ice-T and definitely Judd Nelson to join him, but good luck trying to wrangle all of those guys for a sitdown.
– Nino Brown
"Mr. Davis, your medication is ready…"
Then there’s an excellent feature, The Road to New Jack City where Mario Van Peebles, producer Doug McHenry, Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne and Judd Nelson give their thoughts on the making of the film in the tradition of the great gangster films before, but with a hip hop slant. One feature of the piece is that Mario Van Peebles goes around New York and recreates some of the scenes including the opening scene with Nino and the Duh Duh Man on the 59th St. Bridge as they drop a Wall Street type into the river. He also hits the Graham Court apartments, which subbed as the Carter projects in the film, as well as Grant’s Tomb where they filmed the wedding and shootout with the mob. He also drags around one of his daughters and even uses her for a visual aid at times. One thing that really stands out to me, especially after he was absent on the Blade: Trinity disc, was that Snipes was present, accounted for and ready to dish on his character in depth. Ice-T and the others also give good interviews and at 28 minutes, the piece moves along briskly and covers most of the bases that you want to know about.
– Gee Money
"Can you see it at all?"
"Nope, Fab Five Freddy’s career is gone, dude…"
There’s a 20-minute companion piece, NJC: A Hip Hop Classic, that gets reactions to the film from black entertainers including Nappy Roots, Truth Hurts (who’s smokin’ by the way), Fab Five Freddy, L.A. radio personality Big Boy, Ed Lover, Raphael Saadiq, Warren G., Nate Dogg and Ice-T. They hit upon the influential soundtrack, setting the film in New York and how the film was the first to really highlight the crack epidemic of the mid-1980s. You’ll also be interested to know that, yes, black people are very aware of how bad fashions and hairdos were back in those days. It’s a universally accepted fact.
There’s also a ten-minute feature, Harlem World: A Walk Inside, which has historian Christopher Moore of Harlem’s Schomberg Center give Van Peebles and four of his kids a quickie history lesson on Harlem. It’s fairly engaging and doesn’t drag on too long.
- Duh Duh Man
"I shot the sheriff…and got payback from the deputy…"
Then there’s three music videos: Ice-T with New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme), Christopher Williams’ I’m Dreamin’ and the God-awful Color Me Badd’s I Wanna Sex You Up. My thoughts on these? Only this: How the hell did Color Me Badd go anywhere without constantly getting ass raped? Good God, I hope for their sakes none of them ever got arrested, ‘cause they’d have gotten man-sausage enemas for sure.
Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer.
8.3 out of 10
"Ooh Ice, you were so cool in that Batman Beyond episode."
"Yeah, that was pretty fly wasn’t it?"
Really cool. Nino Brown having a smoke and ready to pop a cap in that ass with the good guys giving their best tough guy looks. Plus it’s got a spiffy new red border and shiny slipcase.
9.0 out of 10
– Scotty Appleton