Paid In Full was produced by Roc-A-Fella honchos Damon Dash and Jay-Z (alongside director Brett Ratner and others), and it casts Roc-A-Fella superstar Cam'Ron in a major role, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as mere rap exploitation. Better-made and more ambitious than most rapsploitation fare, the film instead belongs to the sizable category of films about wide-eyed innocents dazzled by the respect, money, and outlaw glamour of the criminal lifestyle. Based on the true story of some of Harlem's most notorious Reagan-era kingpins, Paid In Full stars Wood Harris as a gangly kid nicknamed "Lucky," a moniker that doesn't suit his dreary existence as a dry-cleaning deliveryman for Chi McBride. Unlike flashy best friend Mekhi Phifer, Harris refrains from selling drugs, but he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the drug game. With the help of upscale supplier Esai Morales, Harris begins selling cocaine, undercutting competitors and capitalizing on the cover provided by his job as an ostensibly law-abiding deliveryman. While Phifer is incarcerated, Harris moves up from hapless driver to drug kingpin, over the course of just a few montage sequences. But trouble arrives in the form of newcomer Cam'Ron, who acquits himself nicely in the Joe Pesci role of the psychotic young punk with a hair-trigger temper who literally broadcasts his bad behavior by showing homemade porn films of himself at public functions. A cautionary tale with a story nearly as old as film itself, Paid In Full travels a familiar arc, taking its protagonist from poverty to criminal royalty to brushes with death and hard-earned wisdom. Paid In Full doesn't make an original move, but its take on black America during the Reagan '80s gives it an element of novelty, as does Harris' impressive lead performance. The innocent young kid who gets caught up in the game is a stock character in crime films, but Harris gives his reluctant kingpin a gawky awkwardness that helps set the film apart. Even at the height of his notoriety, Harris' character has the anxious openness and transparent body language of a nervous child, and he's nicely complemented by Phifer's flashy charisma and Cam'Ron's live-wire spontaneity. But the performances alone aren't quite enough. Reasonably engaging but thin and derivative, Paid In Full aspires to be an old-school version of Goodfellas, but it's more like Blow set to a hip-hop beat.