The Wrecking Crew
Master P's incomprehensible 1997 film I'm 'Bout It unofficially launched the genre of rapsploitation, serving as the first of many low-budget exploitation films written, directed, acted, and/or produced by rappers. The genre has since become a video staple, as evidenced by four recent releases of varying quality and ambition. Probably the oddest of the four is the RZA-directed short Bobby Digital's Domestic Violence, available through the official Wu-Tang web site. The film opens with The RZA addressing the camera directly, earnestly explaining that domestic violence is a serious problem in the African-American community, and that his film is intended to dramatize and help wipe out the problem. How 20 minutes or so of shoddily improvised vignettes vaguely concerning domestic abuse will help bring about lasting social change remains one of the many mysteries of the Wu-Tang, but RZA certainly makes a serious run for Master P's place atop the gullible-hip-hop-consumers-will-buy-anything market. Though Domestic Violence does contain a few worthwhile RZA and Gravediggaz videos, RZA alter-ego Bobby Digital is all but missing in action, regardless of the title. The Bobby Digital: The Movie van does make a thrilling cameo, however, playing itself convincingly. Speaking of which, be on the lookout for Bobby Digital: The Movie, which, as Domestic Violence is careful to note several times, is due out in July 1999. Leprechaun In The Hood, with its professional acting and direction, may not seem to fit into the genre, but the presence of Ice-T and such rapsploitation fixtures as the wacky transvestite and the Asian-man-employing-black-slang bit clearly illustrate its place. The titular leprechaun's penchant for atrocious rhyming couplets made a hip-hop-themed installment of the venerable Leprechaun series inevitable, and, sure enough, the fifth film finds Warwick Davis' pint-sized menace terrorizing three comically "positive" rappers who have come into possession of his magical flute. Like Bride Of Chucky, another late-entry horror sequel featuring a sub-Webster-sized villain, Leprechaun In The Hood trades in the low-rent horror of its immediate predecessors for a plus-sized helping of campy humor. It's a wise move, but the film is only intermittently amusing and not the least bit frightening. Of course, in the world of Z-grade rapsploitation and direct-to-video horror sequels, that's more than enough to stand out like, well, a leprechaun in the 'hood. The busy T also turns up in The Wrecking Crew, the final installment in he and director Albert Pyun's epic gangstas-wandering-around-in-an-empty-warehouse trilogy. Following closely on the heels of Urban Menace and Corrupt (two films with which it shares the same director, supporting cast, stars, and sets), The Wrecking Crew has something to do with an elite, police-sanctioned death squad led by Ice-T. The film opens with title cards introducing T as a skilled mercenary sent to dispatch ultra-powerful crime lord Snoop Dogg, then immediately abandons that thread to focus on a gang-truce-gone-awry plot featuring a slew of poorly differentiated lesser-known actors wandering around in an empty building. Urban Menace gave Snoop Dogg top billing for a role in which he logs considerably less screen time than his stunt double, but Crew takes that phenomenon even further, second-billing Dogg for a role that consists of about 20 seconds of old interview footage artlessly strung together with 10 seconds of outtakes from Urban Menace. If that weren't ballsy enough, the outtake footage features drastically different lighting than the new material, giving the film's opening a distinctly Plan 9 From Outer Space feel. If chutzpah were filmmaking ability, T and Pyun would be Kurosawa-esque cinematic geniuses, but it's not and The Wrecking Crew is atrocious, full of terrible acting and a script that's both coloring-book simple and incoherent. Snoop Dogg has far more screen time in Hot Boyz, rapsploitation godfather Master P's latest directorial effort. P sibling Silkk The Shocker stars as an aspiring rapper whose saintly girlfriend is wrongly accused of murdering a police officer. To win her freedom, Shocker joins forces with a corrupt cop (Academy Award nominee Gary Busey) whom he trusts despite Busey's penchant for killing innocent people at the drop of a hat. When cops kill his girlfriend, Shocker does not file a criminal and civil suit, but instead becomes a big-time criminal kingpin. Hot Boyz is silly, implausible, and full of bad dialoguewhen Shocker initially tells Busey of his girlfriend's plight, Busey sensitively asserts that "it would be a shame to see all that prettiness get raped away in a penitentiary up north"but it's also watchable and coherent, which is more than can be said of any Master P film to date. The writer-director's grasp on the basics of the legal system is nonexistent, but Hot Boyz is the first No Limit film to exhibit any sort of stylistic flair. Shocker has an appealing and forceful screen presence, while the film's Snoop Dogg-heavy soundtrack is No Limit's best yet. Even if the movie never rises above competent melodrama, it's still an encouraging sign that maybe the rapsploitation boom could someday yield a good film.