Civil Brand

If Naomi Klein's anti-globalization tract No Logo were adapted into an incompetent women-in-prison movie, the result would likely resemble Civil Brand, an ambitious but misguided attempt to say something important about the prison-industrial complex in the vernacular of a sleazy chicks-behind-bars genre movie. Equally angry and inept, Civil Brand stars a grunged-up LisaRaye as a prison newbie who quickly becomes radicalized by the abusive conditions of a prison where the general welfare of the inmates invariably takes a backseat to maximizing profits. Rapper Da Brat co-stars as a sassy inmate who spends much of the film yammering directly at the camera about the cruel exploitation of workers that fuels the prison industry's growth. Of the cast, only Mos Def emerges with his dignity intact, no small feat considering that his earnest prison guard's political awakening is "dramatized" by showing the charismatic rapper staring at a web site documenting the exploitation of prison workers. MC Lyte also appears as a less sympathetic guard, but while Civil Brand is filled with rappers, its look couldn't be further removed from MTV slickness. With its grungy lighting, porn-quality production values (among the shabbiest to hit the big screen in years), unconvincing sets, and long static takes, Civil Brand's aesthetic is pure mid-'70s blaxploitation, and not in an ironic or reverent sense. Even the heavy-handed political rhetoric is in keeping with the neo-blaxploitation vibe, since even bad blaxploitation movies often had revolutionary undercurrents. By the time Civil Brand resorts to having its saintly, maternal, very pregnant bible-thumper (Lark Voorhees, a long way from Saved By The Bell) get violently raped by a sadistic prison guard, the film's good intentions have long since gone awry, while an insultingly farfetched ending represents Civil Brand's final break with reality.

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