Belly

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Belly

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Belly

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Something strange happens about 90 minutes into Belly, the big-screen debut by influential hip-hop video director Hype Williams: The film starts to make sense, and even gets interesting. Somehow, the writer/director manages, in Belly's last 20 minutes, to concoct a sort of fever-dream mini-narrative composed of blatant appropriations from Malcolm X, A Clockwork Orange, and Strange Days. Unfortunately, though, those 20 engagingly batshit minutes don't seem to have anything to do with what preceded them. Part incomprehensible GoodFellas rip-off and part feature-length music video, Belly is a millennial head film that subscribes to the sort of logic usually found only in acid trips, nightmares, and big-budget music videos. It does, however, deserve recognition as quite possibly the only major film in cinematic history to star two novice actors with three-letter names. Those two neophytes are rappers Nas and DMX, who star as a pair of drug-addled superthugs who have some sort of vague ambition to market a synthetic superdrug. It's difficult to tell what the hell is going on, thanks to the film's contempt for coherent narrative structure and almost impenetrable immersion into the farthest regions of street dialect. What is for certain, however, is that a whole lot of people get killed in Belly. But while Williams employs plenty of violence, he's also a moralist of the first degree: In a hilariously earnest vignette that could easily double as a public-service announcement, the bespectacled, idealistic Nas visits the project where he grew up and counsels a morally bankrupt, 12-year-old aspiring gangsta to, you know, stay off the streets and, like, get an education or something so he can get out of the 'hood. That's some good advice, but it doesn't really ring true in a film that spends much of its duration glorifying the violence it so hamfistedly and hypocritically condemns.

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