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Arts & Culture/Reel Dealz
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Never Die Alone
by:Edwardo Jackson

MOVIE BIASES: I smell "Belly"…
MAJOR PLAYERS: DMX (Belly), David Arquette (8 Legged Freaks), Michael Ealy (Barbershop 2), based on a novel by Donald Goines, and director Ernest Dickerson (Juice)

Sorry rap fans - DMX is a movie star. Even though this is the same guy who brought us TWO multi-platinum albums in the same year, I defy you to name three hot songs from his latest one, "Grand Champ." With his attention focused increasingly on movies, he plays by movie star rules that include gaudy paychecks and playing roles that are increasingly just variations on himself. "Never Die Alone" is merely the latest variation, which is not so varied - or good - after all.

Based on one of the popular street novels by Donald Goines (who died 30 years ago of gunshot wounds; does that tell you anything?), "Never Die Alone" is a simple story of small time drug dealer King David (DMX) told in a complicated fashion. Out to get his karma straight after over a decade of shenanigans, David's promptly slain, leaving a book's worth of material, a car, and a whole lot of loot to a struggling journalist, a white guy named Paul (Arquette) who's accused of "slumming it" in uptown NYC by his fed up, whitewashed black girlfriend (the incredibly talented yet woefully underutilized Aisha Tyler). Listening to King's autobiography via several audiotapes, Paul hears about all the evil King's done and amends he needs to make, all the while being stalked by several shady characters that include the steely Mike (Ealy), who has an agenda of his own.

This movie has obvious aspirations to be the next "Belly" (re: ghetto fabulous hood classic), which is a problem in and of itself. Both sport the same lead in DMX, the same awful dialogue and nonsensical plotting, and the exact same gratuitous overhead sexcam shot (DMX clearly aspires to be the next Wesley Snipes of onscreen copulation - and he is). But while both movies fail spectacularly to be something of cinematic import under the weight of countless stereotypes and clichéd unimagination, "Never" has flashes of value that "Belly" never had.

You won't find those flashes in the James Gibson script. DMX, despite his now charismatic ease in front of the camera, "plays" a thoroughly unlikable character seeking a karmic redemption into which we can never quite buy. I say "plays" because his trademark sing-songy, canine growl and hood rich demeanor is the same in just about every film he's ever been in (starting off with, of course, BELLY). His character is shallow, materialistic, short-sighted, unethical (already a drug dealer, he substitutes heroin for cocaine without telling his customers), ruthless (you should see the wonders he does with battery acid), and just an all-around idiot. Really, what self-respecting drug dealer gets the woman he claims he "loves" hooked on product? His dysfunctionally symbiotic type of "love" with a woman who is clearly using him becomes unbelievably self-parodying after a point. Somebody better get King David a copy of Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandmants," stat.

But there's more character insanity. The always amusing, relentlessly ghetto Clifton Powell plays a typical sex-crazed drug lord, David Arquette doesn't have much to do but look the part of goofy, in-over-his-head white boy, and you know it's an all-black affair if Zeus "Tiny" Lister (Deebo!) is involved. The bubblicious Reagan Gomez-Preston (my, how we've grown since "The Parent Hood"), with her luminous, breathy onscreen entrance, watches her character reduced from squeaky-clean college girl to crack ho in less than thirty minutes of screen time. I'd be alright with that if there was a reasonable explanation or backstory but there isn't. We're just supposed to accept it, like every other implausibility in this script. Only the light-eyed, female eye candy Michael Ealy escapes relatively unscathed, as his tightly-wound character Mike is the ONLY three-dimensional personage to be found. ). In spite of a fractured past-present structure that I really liked, "Never's" script disservices the audience and its director.

Which is a shame, because Dickerson deserves better. He is the director that brought us the true hood classic "Juice," a better role model for a movie like this than a "Belly." "Juice" had style, edge, character development, and a SCRIPT. "Never" is an exercise in grainy (its proponents would say it's "gritty") cinematography supported by flat, foul-mouthed dialogue. Someone cursing a lot does not make them hard. A lot of action, gunplay, and a world filled with hustlers does not the next "Scarface" make. And if it looks like a stupid ending and sounds like a stupid ending then, guess what, it's a STUPID ENDING. You can take all of the staples of the gangster drama, infuse it with talent and originality, and produce something of quality like "The Sopranos" or "Juice," or even use the cursing to creatively valuable effect as in HBO's new series "Deadwood." But that would be asking too much of the filmmakers (of whom DMX is one as an executive producer) to actually give a damn.

But that's okay, because DMX is a movie star. I still can't tell if he can act because he refuses to stretch himself. Yet the bean counters at Fox Searchlight are prepping themselves for DMX's rap-inspired ghetto pass to eventually mint this movie into a cult classic, if not at the box office now, at Best Buy and Target in the future. And if I'm the only one who's annoyed, offended, and sardonically amused at how the black community rallies behind such thoughtless hood flicks like this, then I guess I will "Die Alone." But DMX won't. Because, rightly or wrongly, he's a movie star. What does that say about our galaxy?

If you can't sneak in, don't go in.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree with The Reel Deal? Think he's talkin' out his...HUSH YO' MOUF! (I'm only talkin' about The Reel Deal!) Email him at ReelReviewz@aol.com!

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com

© 2004, Edwardo Jackson

© Copyright 2004

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