All About the
review by Cynthia Fuchs, 8 March 2002
Baby, you can't
Brawlers, who be dippin' in the Benz wit the spoilers?
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus,
Tryin' to get my hands on some Grants like Horace.
--Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins (Remix)"
The genius of
hiphop -- the brilliant wordplay, the rhythmic complexities, the
incisive social and political analysis, the humor -- rarely
translates to film form. That's not to say that there aren't
ambitious and smart hiphop movies, only that most movies, especially
most movies that get distribution, take an easy route, stereotyping
hiphop attitudes and characters into stereotypical terms --
bling-bling, banging, pimping, a*s-shaking. You know, tired. All
About the Benjamins includes these popular elements --
producer-writer-star Ice Cube surely understands the business he's
in -- but it mostly does so with a sense of self-consciousness and
wit, so you don't have to feel mad about it. On top of that, it
features some of hiphop's genius, in its mostly clever script,
stylish visuals, class critique, and emphasis on charismatic
performances to carry the day.
Kevin Bray (who has previously directed videos for J. Lo, the Fugees,
and 'NSync), the movie has an obvious and amusing visual
aggressiveness. It begins with a scene that looks a little like it
might be Friday In the Trailer Park. Ice Cube is playing a
Miami-based bounty hunter named Bucum (most often pronounced "Book 'em,"
as in "Dan-o") Jackson. He makes his way through an evergladesy back
lot, tracking a lowdown dirty-dog (Anthony Michael Hall), instantly
identifiable as such when the camera pans to show the Confederate
flag in his window and the Bugs Bunny-and-Sambo cartoon on his TV,
that makes him laugh uproariously. Bucum comes in through the back,
only to be ambushed by dirty-dog's scary
professional-wrestler-looking girlfriend, wearing daisy dukes and
carrying a shotgun. During the ensuing tussle, Bucum crashes through
the confederate flag window, punches out scary wrestler girlfriend,
and beats down dirty-dog. The scene ends when Bucum tasers
dirty-dog's nuts. And for anyone who's been wondering what Anthony
Michael Hall has been up to, well, now you know.
action-packedness -- enhanced by mobile camerawork and flashy
fast-cuts -- has nothing to do with anything except that it shows
off Bucum's determination and skills -- and he lots of both. So
here's the thing: Bucum wants out of this rinky-dink business where
he's tracking bail jumpers, in order to open his own Private
Detective's Agency. He's not aiming high, exactly, but he's aiming
more or less seriously. And then he gets tangled up with small time
bail-jumper Reggie Wright (Mike Epps, Cube's partner in Next
Friday and the upcoming Friday After Next). And well,
plans get messed up.
While Bucum is
chasing Reggie, they inadvertently run into a bizarre and bloody
diamond heist, though they don't know that's what it is (you, on the
other hand, get to see the murders. The mismatched perpetrators --
Ursula (Carmen Chaplin) and Ramose (Roger Guenveur Smith) -- are
unaware as they flee the scene that they have a stowaway, namely,
Reggie, who is in turn thinking he's cleverly eluding Bucum. Once
he's discovered in the back of the van, Reggie panics and drops his
wallet, which just happens to have a winning (to the tune of $60
million) lottery ticket in it. This series of events gives the
partners-to-be sort-of parallel reasons to be involved in tracking
down the thieves: Reggie wants his wallet and Bucum (who doesn't
believe the lottery ticket story) wants the collar, which, he says
naively, will give him the big-ups publicity he needs to start up
his detective agency.
In fact, the
lottery ticket story is true, and it's a ticket whose numbers Reggie
has been playing for years, for his hot-mama girlfriend Gina (Eva
Mendes). Aside from her role in picking the numbers, Gina's primary
function is a matter of formula: in a buddy film, at least one of
buddies must involved in a long-term, straight-asserting
relationship; otherwise, all that close-contact activity can be
nervous-making. And true to form, Benjamins includes a
briefly running gag about Reggie biting Bucum's nipple during a
fight in a parking lot -- hardy har -- while Gina stands to the
side, telling Reggie to stop because, as she says repeatedly, "Baby,
you can't fight!"
slightly more energetic and slightly less incidental than most girls
in buddy films (think, maybe: Tea Leoni in Bad Boys). But
even if she gets her own little pieces of action with Bucum's
sidekick Pam (Valarie Rae Miller, playing her Dark Angel
character, Original Cindy, only straight), it's safe to say that the
buddy formula remains intact in this film.
To enable this
plot to roll out, the diamond thieves, so inept and so
reprehensible, provide numerous occasions for conflict and physical
displays. And, as if it matters, they have their own troubles: angry
at their botched job, their boss, a Eurotrashy villain called
Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), exacts brutal Eurotrashy vengeance,
clobbering Ursula in the face and shooting Ramose, point blank, in
the wrist. This bit of sadism leads to more, at Ramose's expense:
when Bucum and Reggie catch him doing something or other, they haul
him into the bathroom, handcuff him to the shower rod, and take
turns torturing him by twisting his metal-brace screws into the
flesh of his arm. There's something perverse about this particular
brand of comedy and boy-bonding (Gina remains in the other room,
making faces as she hears Bad Guy's wails of agony), but it's plain
that Bucum and Reggie share a certain sensibility, much as they deny
The more they
fight with one another, the more they seem destined to be together.
And the film, erratic and badly plotted as it is, relies heavily on
the considerable chemistry between Epps and Cube: sometimes it's
just fun to watch them entertain one another, which they clearly do.
Just so, the film is structured like a romance, complete with a
series of breakups and make-ups (and the usual eroto-phobic jokes
along the way: when Bucum tells Reggie to retrieve his keys, "Dig in
my pockets," Reggie makes all kinds of noise about it; and when
Bucum tells Reggie to shoot at someone, he answers, "Who you think I
am, Mel Gibson!?"). All the while, the partners work toward what is
ultimately the same end, namely, to make enough benjamins to move on
up. Reggie is most obviously in need of cash money (the small
apartment he shares with Gina is filled with candles and shrines
that she uses to pray for the lottery to come through). His
neighborhood is also rough, embodied by a rough-tough corner kid (Lil
Bow Wow, in his acting "debut"), who is apparently willing to sell
information to everyone, including 5-0.
At the same
time, Bucum has his own hard background and resulting impulse to get
over (the manifestly odious Williamson is a yacht dealer when he's
not stealing diamonds). Bucum's previous job -- cleaning up at the
dog track -- most obviously serves to establish a spectacular,
multi-tiered setting for one of several shootouts, more importantly,
it establishes his motivation: he sees what the rich folks have and
wants a piece. You glimpse Bucum's ambition (and his peculiar
tastes) in his fondness for expensive tropical fish; since they're
in Miami, most every interior has an aquarium in it, all of which
must be shot up or run down, preferably in slow motion; at one
point, someone actually shoots a bazooka at a fish truck, so that
dead fish fly through the air, landing whump-whump-whump all over
Bucum's "raggedy-ass" Impala.
in these details -- the car, the fish, the yachts -- that the film
actually makes its class analysis most evident. While by the end,
it's winding down abruptly, like it's run out of ideas, it has also
made its points. Underlining the silliness of the bling-bling,
All About the Benjamins also shows its importance in the
day-to-day world. Class is a function of performance and appearance
as much as it is a function of material wealth -- if you look the
part, the old school folks get nervous, but they have to move over.
And this is the hiphop bling-bling game, forcing the old school
folks to move over, to recognize that all benjamins come with costs
as well as rewards.
Roger Guenveur Smith
Valarie Rae Miller
Lil Bow Wow
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
or adult guardian.