New Jack City

First-time feature director Mario Van Peebles puts a Nineties twist on the blaxploiatation pictures of the Seventies, such as Superfly, Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (directed by his father, Melvin), in this slam-bang crime drama. The script, by Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper the writer who coined the phrase New Jack to convey the latest in urban hip concerns Nino Brown (the superb Wesley Snipes), a drug lord who has turned New Jack City (the film was mostly shot in Harlem) into a crack factory. Brown's "suck my dick" attitude extends to women, the Mob and the police. Scotty Appleton (the rapper Ice-T emerges as a riveting actor) is an undercover cop determined to finish Brown. Appleton and his combative white partner Peretti (the ever-wooden Judd Nelson) unite in the war against drugs. "It's not a black thing, and it's not a white thing," says Peretti. "It's a death thing."

Such overripe dialogue frequently threatens to sink the picture, though director Van Peebles who takes the small role of a detective pumps up the action with a percolating soundtrack that features 2 Live Crew, Keith Sweat, Color Me Bad and Ice-T. The movie has a New Jack hum that carries you over the script's glaring rough spots.

From The Archives Issue 601: April 4, 1991