If 50 Cent's performance in Get Rich Or Die Tryin' proved that it's hard to convey emotion exclusively by scowling and mumbling, The Game's dreadful turn in Waist Deep proves that it's equally impossible to act convincingly with both eyes nearly shut. The Game attempts to exude menace through hardcore forehead-wrinkling and gangsta nose-crinkling, but his efforts are more comic than sinister. Given The Game's 2Pac fixation, he was probably delighted to be working with Gridlock'd auteur Vondie Curtis-Hall, but in terms of probable impact, his performance here is less 2Pac in Juice than 2Pac in Nothing But Trouble.
Alas, Waist Deep's problems go much deeper than The Game or a plot that relies on putting an adorable moppet in jeopardy. Hall's follow-up to Glitter casts Tyrese Gibson as an ex-con whose son is kidnapped by the minions of vicious mobster Game for a $100,000 ransom. To raise the money, Gibson and foxy Meagan Good go on a crime spree while simultaneously igniting a gang war between rival L.A. kingpins.
Curtis-Hall aspires to make a sweaty hood noir, and like many a hapless noir anti-hero, Gibson begins Waist Deep with two strikes against him. He's just one conviction away from falling prey to California's draconian three-strikes law, but the film is too removed from reality for Gibson's predicament to have any real weight. A scene in which Gibson calmly holds a cell-phone conversation while being pursued by seemingly half of the LAPD's squad cars epitomizes the film's contempt for realism. Similarly, Gibson's son—whose big brown eyes and cornrows make him look like Littlest Bow Wow—is far too fuzzily conceived and atrociously acted to function as anything but a desperate, disreputable plot point. Waist Deep might have succeeded had Curtis-Hall pushed the outrageousness of his potboiler premise to the level of comic-book Grand Guignol, but the film lacks the energy and pizzazz to work as lurid pulp. Like the forgotten blaxploitation schlock it often resembles, the film aspires to nothing but cheap thrills, but while it's plenty cheap, it's far from thrilling.