State Property

For a while, the rapsploitation subgenre seemed likely to go the way of cable programming, with virtually every possible interest finding representation. After Master P proved that loyal fans would follow hip-hop stars' film careers—if not in theaters, then on video—virtually everyone looked eager to get in the game, from established artists to has-beens and never-weres. State Property marks the starring debut of Jay-Z sidekick Beanie Sigel, but it would be a mistake to dub the Philadelphia rapper a double threat just yet. A singularly uncharismatic leading man, the paunchy, expressionless, frequently inarticulate Sigel makes an unintentionally comic impression as a character named, naturally, Beans. Sigel plays a small-time hustler who quickly moves up Philly's gangland ladder by adopting a shoot-first approach to his rivals in the crack trade. The unholy spawn of Boyz N The Hood and White Heat, the grimly shot film follows a familiar rags-to-Rocawear arc, as Sigel and his crew (which includes real-life Jay-Z associates Damon Dash and Memphis Bleek) defend an empire forged with the slogan, "You either get down or you lay down." That mantra is repeated more often than "May the force be with you," which is particularly creepy given that State Property seems to endorse the ethos behind it. Director and co-writer Abdul Malik Abbott stages his many violent shootouts for maximum thrills, interrupting the action only for the occasional round of lesbian sex. With direction as amateurish as Abbott's, however, neither the sex nor the violence registers. Looking more puzzled than usual, Jay-Z himself shows up briefly as one of Sigel's rivals, but the air of corporate approval hangs heavy over the film. In any given scene, about half the characters sport clothes from the rap mogul's Rocawear line, making State Property seem like the world's bloodiest infomercial.

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