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

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

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.