The familiar story told in "Paid In Full," the story of a good ghetto kid seduced into the drug trade with tragic results, covers no new territory. But it's a story told so well -- with veracity, raw compassion, well-drawn characters and strong performances -- that its common cautionary tale feels as compelling as it might have been in the 1980s, when the film takes place and before this type of movie became its own genre.

"Paid" plays as if it were made by people who lived it. People like Ace (Wood Harris), a reticent clerk at a neighborhood dry cleaners who has always been happy to blend into the woodwork and just be a survivor, even as he sees his closest friends becoming flush with cash, clothes and cool cars."That ain't my flow, man," Ace says when his best friend Mitch (Mekhi Phifer) tries to lure him into his small-time drug empire.

But as temptations mount (a local Colombian cartel middleman leaves him a cocaine "tip" in a jacket pocket at the cleaners), power becomes attractive (he'd like to get his sister away from her pimp-dealer boyfriend) and opportunities present themselves (Mitch gets arrested, leaving his street business up for grabs). Ace succumbs, in small increments, to the enticements of what seems like an effortless road to living well.

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