It's kind of a clever tactic, as far as criticism is concerned: as difficult as it is sometimes to judge any one movie, it's five times harder to judge a movie that's essentially five different movies rolled into one. Such is the case with Vondie Curtis Hall's latest effort, "Waist Deep," a truly schizophrenic, although not unlikable, movie that takes audiences from the mean streets of Watts to the idyllic shores of Mexico. Let's just say it's much better than we have a right to expect from the man who brought us "Glitter."
The setup is a classic: O2 (Tyrese Gibson, who has the strong-jawed smoldering thing down pat) is just out of prison when his son (the creatively named Junior) is kidnapped and held for ransom by a very unpleasant gang leader named (slightly more creatively), Meat. O2 (so called because he "disappears like oxygen," whatever that means), recruits a comely accomplice named Coco (Meagan Good) and his ne'er-do-well cousin, Lucky (Larenz Tate), to help him get Junior back.
Meat is not a nice person; he enjoys literally cutting his enemies' forearms off and beating their former owners about the head with them, which I imagine is a very surreal experience. Anyway, Meat wants money, and lots of it, in exchange for Junior's life. (Junior, by the way, is either drugged or extremely tired during his kidnapping ordeal--he spends the entire 36 hours sleeping peacefully atop his knapsack).
So far, we're pretty clearly ensconced in the urban blight/ gang violence genre--"Boyz N the Hood," but with less poetry. When O2 and Coco join forces, robbing banks all over South L.A., the movie shifts gears into "Bonnie and Clyde" territory--a link the movie makes careful note of. As the story unwinds, the checklist grows: love story (check), "Heat"-like standoff (check), "Thelma and Louise" moment in the car (check) and, finally, it's "Shawshank Redemption" time. Sprinkled throughout are multiple shoot-outs, some hot sex, many, many lingering shots of Meagan Good's legs and cleavage, and some truly foul language.
Again, it must be emphasized that this mishmash doesn't make "Waist Deep" a bad movie. It's just something of a head-spinner--the audience leaves a different movie than the one it sat down for. The performances are pretty good--with the exception of the nauseatingly sweet H. Hunter Hall (the son of the director) as Junior and a one-note scowl from rapper The Game, who plays Meat--and the screenplay, by Hall and Darin Scott, has some genuinely funny moments. The tension, especially toward the end, is real, and, as a bonus, there's a nice chemistry between Gibson and Good, who both have sex appeal to spare.
Even with the movie's multiple personas, its message--that salvation sometimes doesn't arrive in the expected form, and that escaping isn't the same thing as running away--is delivered loud and clear. Of course, you can get the same message from "Heat," or "Thelma and Louise," or "Shawshank," but really, what kind of cynic would possibly feel the need to point that out?
Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall; screenplay by Hall and Darin Scott; photographed by Shane Hurlbut; edited by Terilyn Shropshire, ACE; music by Terence Blanchard; production design by Warren Young; produced by Preston Holmes. A Rogue Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:37. MPAA rating: R (for strong violence and pervasive language).
O2 - Tyrese Gibson
Coco - Meagan Good
Meat - The Game
Lucky - Larenz Tate