Pop-star appearances in films can be a win-win proposition: Musicians get to stretch artistically while branching out into a glamorous new field, while moviemakers get a built-in audience eager to see if their heroes' magnetism carries over to film. But such vehicles often end up relying on their moonlighting stars' fame to attract interest unwarranted by the script, direction, and acting. That's certainly the case with recent direct-to-video showcases for the acting of Nelly and Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins. Nelly receives top billing in the muddled crime drama Snipes, but his role amounts to a glorified cameo. Such bait-and-switch tactics are depressingly common in the shady world of rapsploitation, where standards range from low to nonexistent. A convoluted thriller that seems intent on confirming moralists' worst fears about the rap industry's violent nature, Snipes stars Sam Jones III as an earnest street kid who papers the streets of Philadelphia with posters touting his favorite rap stars. He undergoes a grim crash course on the violent underbelly of rap when he stumbles on a plan to kidnap rising superstar Nelly and ransom the masters to his eagerly anticipated new album. Snipes eventually curdles into a revenge drama, with Jones turning the tables on the bad guys in a rap world that's essentially a criminal subculture. Its bloody-minded derivativeness and misleading packaging make it less an indictment of that world's mercenary cynicism than a symptom of it. Far more engaging, albeit for all the wrong reasons, is the hilariously awful Art Of Revenge. An inept erotic thriller, the film stars Jenkins as a hotshot designer who leaves his long-suffering wife (Joyce Hyser) to pursue a string of meaningless one-night stands. Angered by Jenkins' betrayal, Hyser plots revenge by hiring shapely grifter Nichole Hiltz to win his heart, then break it, but she finds out the hard way that frequently arrested career criminals aren't the most reliable co-conspirators. Jenkins has the male-model looks to play a preening womanizer, but in Revenge, he's a comically unconvincing seducer, delivering an inexplicably effeminate performance that throws the film off balance. His girlish line readings make Revenge's subtext infinitely more interesting: Rather than coming across as the story of a womanizer who receives a much-deserved comeuppance, it seems to be about a gay man who convinces everyone that he's a predatory heterosexual. But that doesn't mean the film won't kill Jenkins' acting career in its infancy.

More DVD Review