Waist Deep (2006) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and pervasive language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Tyrese Gibson, Meagan Good, Larenz Tate, The Game, H. Hunter Hall, Kimora Lee Simmons
Director: Vondie Curtis-Hall
Screenplay: Vondie Curtis-Hall, Darin Scott
I think the hardest aspect of writing this review will be to resist the impulse to misspell "Waist" as "Waste". At its core, this is just another gangster fantasy, playing out with all of the depth and realism of a video game like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and many of its imitators. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, as the visceral nature of such fare certainly can make for an engaging viewing experience, and some of the appeal of this film comes through the use of in-your-face camerawork and a constant sense of urgency. It starts off quite well, with a gripping opening and main premise, only to lose its footing right around the time that someone loses his arm in a grisly amputation scene. From then on it's over-the-top formula action, striving for a pulse-pounding, gut-churning pace, only to fail miserably by becoming increasingly preposterous in its character motivations and story with nearly every successive scene.
The story is simple, but full of unrealistic permutations. A recently-released con with the nickname of O2 (Gibson, Annapolis) gets carjacked with his son Junior still in the back seat. After an extended chase, the carjacker gets away, and after a bit of digging with a nearby hooker named Coco (Good, Venom) who seems to know more than she lets on, he finds that his son is being held by a ruthless drug dealer named Meat (The Game, his debut big screen role). It seems Meat feels that O2 is holding out some money on him from the gig he went up the river for, and now he wants $100,000 within a matter of a day or so, or it's Junior's final day alive. O2 made a promise to never leave his son behind, and it's a promise he intends to keep, as he races around town doing anything he has to to raise the necessary money.
"Grand Theft Auto" comparisons notwithstanding, even taking Waist Deep on its own terms as a movie, there is a sense of familiarity already in the material lifted from other recent releases. The most obvious comparison is Running Scared, another ultra-violent gangster opus involving a man with a checkered past searching with utter desperation for a boy, encountering all sorts of unsavory situations in his pursuit. The political aspect of the film, with its people marching the streets for justice and a lack of understanding from local law enforcement, is reminiscent of another film involving a plotline where a young boy is ostensibly stolen in a carjacking, Freedomland. The man with a checkered past forced to do anything, including abhorrent violence, to get back a kidnapped child is lifted right out of Man on Fire. The grittiness of the crime drama and action, along with the overriding sense of slick style, feels very much like the John Singleton movie, Four Brothers, which also features a menacing villain and retribution storyline lifted right out of 1970s blaxploitation films.
I'm sure that Waist Deep will have its audience, particularly among viewers that love violent films with a strong visual style. Typically, these viewers don't seem to mind skimping out on character development, plausible plotting, or realism as long as the film is action-packed, with strong dialogue and a certain amount of shock value. Conventional narrative building blocks are ignored, while the audience is purely engaged by sensory elements, throwing more brutal violence and profane language at them with increasing intensity.
Sadly, while this sort of thing may be exciting to a certain segment of the population, it is dreadfully boring to others, since there really isn't much to think about or feel connection to. This is a sensationalist fantasy, exploiting stereotypes while masquerading as a film with a serious social and moral backbone underneath. Hypocritical, since the film seems to insist greater police presence is what the crime-ridden streets of the inner city needs, while also making the police out to be apathetic and more of a hindrance than a help, especially to the African-American community crying out for some sort of justice and protection from the thugs running rampant in the community.
In the end, this is just an absurd actioner, neither realistic nor relevant enough to take seriously as social commentary, save to realize just how much pandering of obscenity Hollywood will engage in by constantly trying to cater to a niche audience that likes amoral entertainment. Gone are the days when films like Do the Right Thing and Boyz N the Hood resonate with the public about the realities of the racism and crime that tear apart largely African-American communities. I guess we've given up trying to tell real stories about real situations, inspired more by making our entertainment so shockingly offensive and nasty, that when we walk out of the theater, we don't feel as bad about our own lives or communities, since our reality, as bad as it may be, is at least better than that depicted in our obscenity-laden films and graphically violent video games. The smog-filled air outside doesn't smell so bad when you've spent the previous two hours wallowing, waist deep, in rancid human filth.
©2006 Vince Leo