Movie Review: New Jack City

New Jack CIty – Rated R

Could this story have been told linearly? Yes (it probably would’ve been less confusing). Could it have been told today? Absolutely not. A movie about an evil black man taking advantage of his own people just wouldn’t fly in our more enlightened age. But to be fair, it’s easier to take advantage of your own people. You probably live closer to them. The slave trade, as profitable as it was, was a horrible commute for most of the Caucasians involved. 

There are a lot of mysteries in New Jack City. Is Gee Money’s girlfriend a trannie? I really expected this to be a “surprise” twist until it wasn’t. I’d go as far as to call New Jack City The Crying Game 1.0, but for whatever reason, the powers that be decided against it. Maybe they figured (incorrectly) that they had no shot at an Oscar anyway, so why throw in a transvestite?  

And why is Judd Nelson laughing at the end? Sure Nino Brown gets his comeuppance, but is there a deeper meaning here? Is New Jack City implying that the white man is happy to sit back and watch the black community tear itself to pieces? I honestly don’t know. 

New Jack City doesn’t really imply anything–it flat out tells you everything. This is a movie that celebrates impromptu black barbershop quartets around flaming garbage cans amid an urban warzone, crack is everywhere and fine hos are aplenty. And again, the seemingly unnecessary time jumps may serve a purpose after all. Much like a crackhead, you are left disoriented and confused, and in need of even more (thankfully provided) exposition. But in the end, this movie lands on its feet as a modern-day classic, and there are three reasons for this. 

Number one: practical effects. There’s no way a movie studio lets Chris Rock ride a Huffy down 17 flights of rickety steel stairs in 2020, or lets anyone dangle anyone (even an extra) from the Queensborough Bridge by their ankles. Today, this would all be done with CGI aboard a Hellicarrier. There’s just no room for gritty reality in today’s cinema. Back in the 90s, people were split, but in 2020, we finally have a 100% consensus against reality. Reality is awful. We’ve had enough. We won’t spend $20 just to see more of it in a movie theater. 

Number two: the music. I’ve seen dozens of movies in the last 20 years, and I can’t remember one original soundtrack from any of them. In 2020, we demand our music be bland and autotuned. How can music offend anyone if no one can even remember it? In the 1980s and even as late as the 90s, there was a horrible trend of trying to make music “catchy” and relevant. This is why movies like Money Train literally had a song about a money train coming to get you, and why the original Ghostbusters has more catchy themes than the entire Star Wars sequel trilogy. What filmmakers of the time failed to realize is that bland, almost hypnotically empty music is timeless. “Catchy” music dates movies, and today, that job is reserved for the crappy GGI. 

Number three: Chris Rock. He should have won the Oscar for Pookie. This is, without a doubt, the most accurate portrayal of a crackhead ever brought to the silver screen. When Pookie begs Nino Brown for a Thanksgiving turkey and immediately chomps into while trying to sell it for crack, we can all relate. Who hasn’t been there? And when Judd Nelson foreshadows Pookie’s brutal murder by sarcastically telling him the police have faith in him, that he’s the best man for the job, who hasn’t been there, either? Torn between the police, his people, and his crippling addiction to crack, Pookie presents to us the anglo-Christian existential crisis repackaged, and his utter futility rings true even today. Rock’s failure to win an Oscar or a Golden Globe parallels this futility in reality. 

New Jack City wasn’t much more than a throwaway movie in the 90s. It got a little hype, but movies of its caliber we so frequent, we took it for granted. Somehow, the version I saw on BET at 3 a.m. is better than any movie made in the last 10 years, not only in terms of music, theme, etc, but basic storytelling. I understood what was happening. I knew who was who. I actually gave a shit about the characters and can remember most of the soundtrack. And perhaps its crowning glory: this is a movie that will never be rebooted. There will be no prequel or sequel or New Jack City Story. The story has been told, and for all of their shortcomings, at least today’s filmmakers know when they’ve been outclassed. 

4 out 5 stars

H. Seitz
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