Real life hip hop stars Pras and Ja Rule star as an ambitious young rapper and his violent best friend/producer in "Turn It Up," a film spawned by Pras' song "Ghetto Superstar," which appeared on the soundtrack for Warren Beatty's bold political satire "Bulworth."
But while these two recording artists do a sincere and effective job making their characters feel true-to-life and depicting the ugly side of the rap label biz, the movie adheres to a formula of "money, drugs and 'hos" (to quote Ja Rule's character) that is neither ambitious nor bold.
With a pretty standard edge-of-the-ghetto backdrop and a plot concerning what Pras' perfectionist proto-rapper is willing to do to make his dream come true, "Turn It Up" mixes the predictable (a ruthless drug kingpin, a pregnant girlfriend, an absentee father looking for redemption) with a few Hong Kong-style shootouts that making killing look cool as long as you're killing people less moral than yourself.
With murderous, sympathetic part-time drug couriers (not dealers, mind you) for central characters, the message of the movie seems to be that it doesn't matter how low you sink while trying to make your way in the world, as long as you're a little remorseful about it once you get what you want.
Pras and Ja Rule give their characters' friendship a powerful bond that forces the young rapper to be forever flirting with danger, since his hot-tempered buddy has no qualms about capping somebody to finance studio time so they can finish a demo CD.
But while "Turn It Up" gets a lot of mileage out of that dynamic factor, it has nothing fresh to say about rap, the recording industry, personal integrity, responsible parenting or any of its other themes. The acting is strong, the soundtrack kicks butt, and writer-director Robert Adetuyi has a flair for atmosphere (although not for story flow). But the film is little more than an unambitious, well-packaged passel of urban black clichés.
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
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