Light It Up
Good intentions yield less-than-stellar results once again in Light It Up, a drama that tethers an Important Social Issue (the conditions of inner-city schools) to a leaden, cliché-ridden hostage drama. The film gets off to an unpromising start with an off-screen voiceover introducing six familiar high-school archetypes, from the misunderstood artist (Robert Ri'chard) to the pretty, motivated overachiever (Rosario Dawson). Soon, a jumbled altercation between Ri'chard and ornery school cop Forest Whitaker leads to a group of students taking Whitaker hostage, resulting in the usual media circus and police standoff. Inside the school, tension develops between opposite ends of the black-music spectrum, as clean-cut R&B heartthrob Usher Raymond and gravelly voiced former Onyx member Fredro Starr face off, with cranky eternal teenager Sara Gilbert looking on sullenly. Written and directed by Craig Bolotin with all the grit and stark realism you'd expect from the scribe behind the James Woods/Dolly Parton vehicle Straight Talk, Light It Up is a sub-standard, TV-movie-quality film with a screenplay that's at least 20 rewrites away from mediocrity. In one obligatory scene, the kids turn on the TV to find that news of the standoff is being shown on every channel. But that scene is a triumph of cinema-verite realism compared to a sequence in which the troubled youths send off an e-mail with their demands that magically arrives at every imaginable news source within seconds. The abhorrent condition of inner-city schools remains an important issue, but it deserves a far better forum than this audience-insulting idiocy.