Case in point: international sensation Pras co-produced and stars in Turn It Up. It's about, what else, a young man's struggle to escape his life of crime. Redemption is the order of the day. Diamond (Pras) is a talented hip-hop performer who harbors big dreams of cutting his own record, but can't afford the inflated costs of studio time. His mercurial loose cannon of a best friend, Gage (Billboard chart-topper Ja Rule), wants to lend a helping hand, stealing $10,000 from an ill-fated drug runner. Unfortunately, the money financing Diamond's career belongs to a vicious British gangster (Jason Stratham, Snatch, good even when he's coasting) who suddenly takes an interest in stealing the rights to Diamond's record. Things sure are heating up around here.
Just in case we get bored with itemized record deal negotiations, there are a few back alley drug deals that go sour. Ha! Are there any other kind? Messrs. Pras and Rule are given ample opportunity to pop off several rounds of ammo in dramatic slow motion. John Woo's "two-guns-at-once" are combined with Quentin Tarantino's "point-the-gun-diagonally," since those techniques seemed to work well in other, better films. There's plenty of shattering glass -- can't have a shootout without some shattering glass! The rhythm and pacing resemble a lazy and inconsiderate lover, unimaginatively going through the motions.
Lest all this gunplay reinforce a negative image of the black community, there's an after-school special subplot involving Diamond's girlfriend (Tamala Jones). She's pregnant. Will Diamond accept the responsibility of being a father, or choose to pursue his music career? On cue, his long-lost pop (Vondie Curtis-Hall, Eve's Bayou) shows up with sage advice: Do the right thing, son.
During the dramatic "brother's keeper" scenes between Pras and Ja Rule, Manhattan's skyline looms in the distance. It's all about having a spectacular background, no? The two leads carry on with self-conscious intensity, performing as expected. They can't act, but they have charisma to burn with obligatory thousand yard stares and solemn affirmations of loyalty and respect. These rap sensations only come alive during their one live performance midway through Turn It Up, finally living up to the title as they bust their moves in a club (or is it an abandoned aircraft hangar -- all the better for a tie-in music video).
Turn It Up isn't a bad film, content to be merely sluggish and generic. Projects like this don't feel scripted -- they're packaged, complete with a hot soundtrack. I'll bet it made for a swell looking deal memo. If anything is to be learned from Ice Cube's success, it is not that rap stars make bankable pictures. Cube brought his own distinct, original voice to Friday and The Players Club, stories only indirectly related to the hood. He has an ear for vivid dialogue and seems carefully selective of his cast and crew. To date, he's been the only filmmaker smart enough to place the explosive comic Bernie Mac (The Original Kings of Comedy) in a lead role.
Audiences have responded to Ice Cube's material over his contemporaries because he takes calculated risks. The result is something fresh and new, and the masses thrive on fresh and new when the studios quake in fear at the thought of pushing the envelope. (Even when those films make tons of money -- I cite The Matrix and The Silence of the Lambs as world heavyweight champions of this theory.) Turn It Up never aspires to be more than an excuse for Pras and Ja Rule to flash their ultra-sleek MTV fashions for 90 minutes. With trends seemingly changing every week, the public is fickle. It's a safe bet there's another urban hip-hop drama being hustled through production even as you read this review. Watch out, Pras - your 15 minutes are almost up.
Or turn it off.
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 6th September 2000
Box Office USA: $0.7M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: New Line Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 8%
Fresh: 3 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 4.3 / 10
Director: Robert Adetuyi
Screenwriter: Robert Adetuyi
Starring: Jason Statham as Mr. B, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Cliff, Tamala Jones as Kia, John Ralston as Mr. White, Ja Rule as David 'Gage' Williams, Chris Messina as Baz, Eugene Clark as Marshall, Derwin Jordan as Seamus, Patrice Goodman as Jane, Chang Tseng as Mr. Chang, Harry-O as Master Mix, Elain R. Graham as Rose, Faith Evans as Natalie, Melyssa Ford as Deborah, Jeff Jones as Minister, LeRoy Allen as Security Guard, Shinehead as Smiley, DJ Skribble as DJ, Conrad Dunn as Urie, Pras as Denzel / Diamond
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