It's both poignant and fitting that a contemporary hip-hop-themed rethink of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby would co-star and be produced by the son of the upwardly mobile fashion mogul who made a distinctly Gatsby-esque leap from Ralph Lipschitz, the Bronx-born Jewish son of a house painter, to Ralph Lauren, the embodiment of WASPy upper-class gentility. Andrew Lauren, who also co-wrote the story, certainly knows something about the all-American art form of personal reinvention. And it likewise seems savvy to build a Gatsby update around the intersection of nouveau hip-hop riches and snooty old money. So why does Christopher Scott Cherot's G have so little of interest to say about Diddy in the Hamptons, or Russell Simmons mingling with the American aristocracy? Perhaps because it doesn't seem terribly interested in hip-hop in the first place. Its take on the genre feels shallow and reductive, a flashy marketing hook rather than the product of a genuine passion for the art form.
Richard T. Jones is miscast in the title role of a distinctly Diddy-like rap mogul who builds a formidable business empire after losing the fiery love of his life (Chenoa Maxwell) to well-born but brutish womanizer Blair Underwood. Underwood's sneering menace and brawny physicality is easily the best thing about the film, but perhaps he and Jones should have switched roles, as Underwood's striking good looks and charisma would help make the title character more than just the surly cipher Jones plays him as. It may be that Jay Gatsby is just too delicate an enigma to successfully jump from the page to the big screen. So much of the book's resonance lies in the narrator's (and, by extension, Fitzgerald's) elegant descriptions of Gatsby rather than in his inarticulate dialogue, and Cherot's film fatally lacks the quicksilver poetry of Fitzgerald's finely wrought words.
For a film about shimmering surfaces and the glittering allure of the superficial, G boasts a depressingly flat, undistinguished visual style, and whenever Bill Conti's score reaches for rarified, elegant romance, it instead suggests the dewy earnestness of a feminine hygiene commercial. ("G: for when you're feeling not so fresh.") G has its moments, but it ultimately does wrong by both its uncredited source material and hip-hop, accomplishing the singular feat of simultaneously betraying Pharrell Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald.