New Jack City (1991) starring Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Judd Nelson, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Michele, Bill Nunn, Bill Cobbs, Christopher Williams, Vanessa Williams directed by Mario Van Peebles Movie Review

New Jack City (1991)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown in New Jack City

Ice-T is Finding Nino

September 2011 a furore starts on the net when Universal announces they plan to remake/re-imagine the iconic "Scarface". Jump back 20 years and you have "New Jack City" a movie which not only follows a storyline similar to "Scarface" but at times integrates parts of the actual movie into scenes to emphasise its influence. And ironically "New Jack City" now borders on the cult classic status with a loyal following of people who enjoy the hip update of the story which follows the rise and fall of gangster Nino Brown as two New York cops attempt to bring him and his drug dealing crime organization down.

It's the late 80s and gangster Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes - Murder at 1600) spots an opportunity to make himself a major player in the drugs racket by selling Crack. With his gang who go by the name of the Cash Money Brothers they take over the Carter apartment block and set up there empire selling Crack to everyone and anyone. Detectives Scotty Appleton (Ice-T - 3000 Miles to Graceland) and Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson - St. Elmo's Fire) are given the job of bringing Nino and his empire down and whilst an attempt to infiltrate Nino's operations using a former drug taker called Pookie (Chris Rock - Beverly Hills Cop II) goes disastrously wrong they don't give up especially as both Scotty and Peretti have personal reasons for ending Nino's reign.

Judd Nelson and Ice-T in New Jack City

So basically "New Jack City" is that classic rise and fall of a gangster storyline and you can see the influence of not only "Scarface" but also various other gangster movies on the story. As such it's not the most original of movies but with it being set at the end of the 80s and in New York with a hip gangster stamping his mark with his drug empire it feels surprisingly fresh. In fact whilst a gangster movie with its story surrounding the rise and fall of Nino the strength of the storyline surrounding detectives Scotty and Peretti causes it to lean towards being more of a crime thriller rather than just a gangster movie.

One of the reasons why "New Jack City" works is that it is stylish, not in the sense of camera techniques and snappy action but the visual palette which director and actor Mario Van Peebles employs. There is the whole hip hop side of it as we have 80s street style going on with Nino and his heavies wearing heavy gold chains and looking fly. Yet there is also a style to the dirty underworld of his drugs empire as we are taken into the filthy streets full of homeless people stealing to pay for their fix. Occasionally it does feel slightly wrong an the occasional scene feels to influenced by the soundtrack almost bordering on being a music video as whole songs are played as we get a compilation of scenes but on a whole it makes "New Jack City" work, visually drawing us in.

The style also extends when it comes to the movies message about drugs and the organised criminals who deal drugs without a care for those buying the merchandise. For the most Mario Van Peebles does an excellent job of never being preachy allowing the evidence of the drug world to hit home on its own. But like with the occasional music influenced scene it is not all perfect and a scene which sees Chris Rock's character Pookie succumb to temptation after having gone through rehab is a bit too forced. Now as a stand alone scene it works as we watch Pookie struggle with temptation and you have to say Chris Rock's performance during that scene is mesmerising but it feels more like a public advert highlighting the danger of drug taking that part of the story and sadly feels a little out of place.

One of the best things about "New Jack City" is the acting throughout is of a high level even from those in the smallest of parts. It's great to watch Bill Nunn as Duh Duh Duh Man taken on a bad guy role and he fleshes it out just enough to not only stop it feeling 2 dimensional but also making us strangely feel for him despite being one of Nino's henchmen. And Judd Nelson is just as good to watch as tough detective Peretti whose unorthodox attitude makes him almost psychotic. I could go on because Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Bill Cobbs, Russell Wong and rapper Ice-T amongst many others all deliver very good performances.

But "New Jack City" is a movie which belongs to Wesley Snipes who as Nino Brown delivers his finest performance to date. On one hand you have the gangster, the man who is evil and you can see that ruthlessness running behind his eyes when ever it comes to his drugs empire. But he is also seriously stylish and full of swagger which ironically draws us to him, even liking him because he has an abundance of confidence. It makes him a wonderful character and it's because Snipes brings him to life that "New Jack City" becomes very memorable.

What this all boils down to is that "New Jack City" is a very good movie, not the greatest gangster movie ever made but one which is surprisingly captivating. It's captivating partly because it has style and a decent pace but also because Wesley Snipes delivers what is a brilliant performance as gangster Nino Brown drawing us into his rise and fall and strangely liking him despite his ruthless evil ways.