Empire

"Weak"

Empire Review


Any chance that "Empire" might be all that different from other drug- dealer- trying- to- go- straight movies is lost with the opening voice-over, in which heroin mini-kingpin Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo) rattles off a dozen street life clichés in 60 seconds, starting with the line, "Damn, if I'd known then what I know now! It's all about making money, baby."

Never mind that the plot includes the hero losing his shirt and his boss's drug money in a Wall Street scam perpetrated by a savvy, Caucasian, uptown con artist. That only serves to prove that Victor is a sucker, not that his story is any different from those of drug dealers depicted in scads of other movies from the last 15 years -- October's "Paid In Full" or 1994's "Sugar Hill," for example.

Universal Pictures even admits as much in the film's press kit, which compares it "in theme and execution" to a "list of urban gangster films" but goes on to trumpet the fact that "Empire" is the first time this recycled story "has been told from the point of view of a Latino character."

That's it. Same movie, different skin tone.

This isn't to say director Franc. Reyes (yes, he spells his name with a period) doesn't make good use of his single unique plot element. Scam artist Jack Wimmer is played with deliberate but ever so slightly deceitful Wonder Bread banality by chameleonic actor Peter Sarsgaard -- who has been impossible to recognize as a brutal redneck in "Boys Don't Cry," a reclusive computer nerd in "Center of the World," a dimwit druggie in "The Salton Sea," and a nervous nuclear reactor technician in "K-19: The Widowmaker."

The way he manipulates Victor is so sly and subtle that his deceit might have even worked as a surprise when it's revealed -- if all the studio marketing hadn't given it away already. And Leguizamo shows real dramatic gusto as a big man in the barrio who can't help but feel smaller when he crosses into the world of high finance with his unsophisticated wads of liquid cash.

Victor is taken in by Jack's generosity, willingness to take a chance and apparent confidence in his unpolished, downtown business sense. He moves into a ritzy loft offered up at no charge by his new friend, and abandons his old life and his old friends in what becomes a well-played internal struggle for soul.

But isn't that pretty much a given? Everything else in the movie sure is. Victor's entry into the drug trade after the murder of his brother is genre standard procedure (although sometimes it's a mother, as in "Sugar Hill," or a best friend thrown in jail, as in "Paid in Full"). His closest lieutenant (Vincent Laresca) is a hotheaded loose cannon who makes a mess of the hero's tight street business after he's gone (just like in "Sugar Hill" and "Paid in Full").

Another sidekick (Rafael Baez) is tough but not so bright (ditto "Paid in Full"). His pregnant girlfriend (ditto, ditto) is a college student with a disapproving mother (Sonia Braga) and a bright future (ditto, ditto, ditto), who loves him in spite of his lifestyle (ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto...).

"Empire" has credible street smarts, although its cinema smarts prove dubious since Reyes employs such hackneyed scenes as the girlfriend (Delilah Cotto) walking in on Victor just as Jack's sexy white girlfriend (Denise Richards) is coming onto him. Its warm, visually rich cinematography (by Kramer Morgenthau) recognizes both beauty and decay in the picture's South Bronx locations.

But even with its investment-scam twist, every minute of the movie is familiar and predictable, and 4/5ths of it might as well have come from a Xerox machine rather than Franc. Reyes' word processor. Erase Sarsgaard, swap out Ruben Blades' Latin beat soundtrack for hip-hop, and replace Leguizamo with, say, Ice Cube, Mekhi Phifer, Terrence Howard or Omar Epps, and it would be hard to distinguish "Empire" from its equally unremarkable, Harlem-based predecessors.



Empire

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Friday 6th December 2002

Box Office USA: $17.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $18.6M

Budget: $4M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Studios

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 79

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Victor Rosa, as Jack, as Trish, as Jimmy, as La Colombiana, as Carmen, as Rafael Menendez, Anthony 'Treach' Criss as Chedda, Rafael Báez as Jay, as Tito Severe, as Hector

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in...

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

With the more dumbed-down title Fast & Furious 8 outside of North America, this overcrowded...

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the...

Advertisement
The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel is adapted into a remarkably intelligent, gently involving film anchored...

The Boss Baby Movie Review

The Boss Baby Movie Review

There isn't a lot of subtlety in this madcap animated comedy, which is more aimed...

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

After the latest incarnation of Dredd, director Pete Travis shifts gears drastically for this complex...

Going in Style Movie Review

Going in Style Movie Review

This is only technically a remake of the iconic 1979 film starring movie icons George...

Graduation Movie Review

Graduation Movie Review

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) recounts another staggeringly detailed...

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the...

Free Fire Movie Review

Free Fire Movie Review

Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.