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Tuesday, June 2, 2009


In the extended ‘director’s cut,’ this Ridley Scott pic still comes up short in spite of a clean, clear script from Steve Zaillian. Denzel Washington is just okay as a deceptively low-key, but ruthless drug kingpin in ‘70s Harlem. (The role seems made for Terrence Howard.) He undercuts his Mafia competitors by skipping the middleman & buying high quality drugs right from the source. Shipping comes courtesy of the U.S. military in Vietnam, but it’s endgame when the war winds down just as a Fed task force (led by a beefy Russell Crowe) closes in. Scott overreaches here, trying for too many GODFATHER moments, but his main problem remains (as ever) in mishandling the narrative line in his material. Washington runs his operation with his brothers & extended family, but we hardly get to know anyone which leaves us comfortably distanced from the situations. Same goes for Denzel’s Puerto-Rican wife. On the other side of the law, Crowe’s team of agents haven’t a character tic to chew on between them. The basic story is compelling and Scott has visual panache to spare, but he seems to miss the ironic tone of bitter, black comedy Zaillian has built into this mirror-image American dream. And, yes, MOD SQUAD fans, that really is an unbilled Clarence Williams playing Washington’s mentor Bumpy Johnson.

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