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Mario Van Peebles
Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Michele, Bill Nunn, Russell Wong, Bill Cobbs, Christopher Williams, Judd Nelson
Writing Credits:
Thomas Lee Wright (story and screenplay), Barry Michael Cooper

They're a new breed of gangster. The new public enemy. The new family of crime.

Just as cool and topical today as when it first opened, New Jack City stars Wesley Snipes as the angel-of-death crack kingpin who holds a city in his grasp. Ice T, Judd Nelson and Mario Van Peebles (who also directs) play police officers who lay it all on the line. Chris Rock and Vanessa Williams co-star. A dynamic cutting-edge soundtrack includes tunes by Ice T, Queen Latifah, 2 Live Crew and more.

Box Office:
$8.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$7.039 million on 862 screens.
Domestic Gross
$47.624 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 8/23/2005

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Mario Van Peebles
• Trailer
Disc Two
• “NJC: A Hip-Hop Classic” Featurette
• “Harlem World: A Walk Inside” Featurette
• “The Road to New Jack City” Featurette
• Three Music Videos


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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New Jack City: Special Edition (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 23, 2005)

Not only does 1991’s New Jack City take us back to the era in which crack ruled the streets, but also it reminds us of a period in which Wesley Snipes was an up-and-coming talent. I can remember a period in which he and Denzel Washington were viewed on a similar level. Since then, unfortunately, Snipes has turned into something of a hack, while Washington became one of the world’s most respected stars.

At least Jack lets us see glimmers of Snipes’ talent. Set in New York City circa 1986, Jack follows the exploits of drug kingpin Nino Brown (Snipes). He sells cocaine but his pal Gee Money (Allen Payne) alerts him to the appeal of freebase, which soon becomes rechristened crack. Nino agrees with its potential and proposes that they use the drug to elevate their status in their chosen career. They stage a hostile takeover as they kill competitors and intimidate those who might stand in their way.

We also meet copy Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) after he busts small-time dealer Pookie (Chris Rock). Scotty works undercover, and we soon see him in Nino’s midst. It seems likely the pair will come up against each other at some point.

However, this doesn’t happen immediately. After we see a montage that depicts Nino’s rise to power, we jump ahead to 1989 to see how crack has devastated the community. Apparently Scotty’s not had it good, as he’s been on probation. Police officer Stone (Mario Van Peebles) wants Scotty and hotheaded cop Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) for his anti-crack team, but Police Commissioner Fred Price (Thalmus Rasulala) fights this. However, Stone wins and he gets his “New Jack cops” to go after a slippery opponent in Nino.

Stone pairs odd couple Scotty and Nick, though neither likes the idea. Nonetheless, they pair up to go after the problem. The rest of the movie follows their pursuit of Nino and related issues.

Expect a fair amount of “related issues” in this rather disjointed tale. If I had to pinpoint one substantial problem with Jack, it’d be the lack of coherent narrative. The movie can’t maintain its attention in one area for long. Instead, it flits from one character or scenario to another and forgets prominent elements for far too long.

For instance, the movie almost totally shuts down to follow the redemption of Pookie. Unfortunately, it never seems very clear why Scotty invests so much effort and emotion into Pookie, though perhaps that character becomes a symbolic representation of all the work folks need to put into those down on their luck. Or maybe it’s just a plot device to connect Pookie to Scotty so they can have their later scenes together. Whatever the case may be, those scenes grind the narrative to a halt, and other parts of the story slow badly during different times.

Despite the looseness of the story, Jack packs a pretty good punch. I wouldn’t call it documentary-style, but it comes across as grittier and tougher than I expected. Only occasionally does it indulge in the usual moralizing, and it mostly omits the patronizing “elevate the community” tone that mars Spike Lee films. Instead, it manages to often bring us inside the atmosphere of the time to get a feel for the nastiness that crack engendered.

Since every rapper under the sun now pursues an acting career, it’s interesting to recall that this concept was a novelty back when they made Jack. Indeed, Ice-T’s casting was viewed as risky at the time. His performance becomes more about attitude than ability, but he shows a ferocity that makes him standout. We buy him as a tough cop.

As I alluded earlier, Snipes shows real ability as the cold-hearted Nino. He resists the urge to make the character likable. There’s a cruel charm to him, though, as Snipes makes Nino cold but charismatic.

All that and we get to see Chris Rock as a crackhead! New Jack City suffers from a poorly told narrative and a few lapses into public service announcement territory, but it manages to succeed overall. There’s a grittiness and an honesty that make it involving.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

New Jack City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I didn’t expect much from this movie’s picture, I found a surprisingly terrific presentation.

Sharpness was nearly immaculate. A smidgen of softness occasionally popped up in a wide shot here or there, but those instances were very minor. The vast majority of the movie looked crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. For a 14-year-old movie, source flaws were shockingly rare. Indeed, I saw only one or two small specks during the film; otherwise it was clean.

Colors also stood out more strongly than I expected. Many films of the era come with a dull tone, but this one offered quite lively and vibrant hues when appropriate. The colors always appeared rich and full. Blacks were tight and deep, and low-light shots provided solid clarity and delineation. This transfer worked very well and earned an “A-“.

Though I gave it a “B+”, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of New Jack City offered almost as pleasant a surprise as the picture. The film presented a surprisingly broad soundfield. It concentrated on city street ambience, with the occasional violent sequence to punch up matters. These all used the localization well and created a nice sense of place and involvement. The surrounds kicked into action better than I expected and added real life to the proceedings. They even showed some stereo action at times, something I definitely didn’t anticipate from a movie of this one’s vintage.

Audio quality worked fine. The sole minor weak link came from the music – at least when the tunes didn’t come from a club. In that setting, the songs showed good low-end, but otherwise, the music seemed a bit anemic and didn’t present a lot of depth. The score and tunes were clear enough; they just failed to demonstrate good dimensionality.

Otherwise, the mix seemed positive. Actually, effects came across as a little limp at times and didn’t show great low-end, but they were generally satisfying in that regard, and they provided solid definition and accuracy. Speech was natural and concise, with no edginess or other issues. Ultimately, I felt satisfied with this effective soundtrack.

New Jack City gets the special edition treatment in this two-disc affair. In addition to the flick’s trailer, DVD One includes an audio commentary from director/co-star Mario Van Peebles. He touches on subjects like the movie’s social and political connections, casting and working with the actors, locations and attempts at verisimilitude, cinematography and lighting, and homages to other films and influences. At times Van Peebles seems rather full of himself, but he manages to convey some good information. Although he gets too technical on occasion, he still maintains a reasonable level of depth and gives us a pretty nice look at his film.

As we move to DVD Two, we start with a featurette called The Road to New Jack City. In this 28-minute and five-second show, we find the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Van Peebles, producer Doug McHenry, and actors Ice-T, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Judd Nelson, and Allen Payne. The program looks at the origins and intentions of the movie, hip-hop-related innovations, the film’s messages, casting and the actors’ work, the specifics of the opening shot, changes from the original script and the early chase sequence, problems with locations and details of the shoot, and the movie’s legacy.

Lean and tight, the featurette digs into its topics quite well. We get a surprising level of detail along with many interesting anecdotes. I especially like Rock’s comments about how the character of Pookie continues to reverberate with some fans. This program gives us a nice little look at some aspects of the production.

Next comes NJC: A Hip-Hop Classic. The 20-minute and 12-second show offers notes from Ice-T, associate producer Fab 5 Freddy, soundtrack executive producer Cassandra Mills, radio personalities Big Boy, Ed Lover, musicians the Nappy Roots, Raphael Saddiq, Truth Hurts, Black Child, Cadillac Tah and Warren G, Yo! MTV Raps co-creator Moses Edinborough, and USC School of Cinema’s Dr. Todd Boyd. They talk about the movie’s music, the use of a rapper as an actor, the characters, the flick’s use of New York, terminology and styles of the era, the film’s message and some favorite scenes.

The show emphasizes how folks reacted to the movie and its elements. This means a lot of praise for the film without tons of reflection. Oh, we get some decent thoughts about what the film meant, but this piece comes across as a little more self-congratulatory than I’d like.

For the final featurette, we get Harlem World: A Walk Inside. It takes 10 minutes, seven seconds and offers a tour of New York’s Schomburg Center. Historian Christopher Moore takes Van Peebles and his kids on a tour of the museum and also leads them through notable spots in Harlem. Well-meaning but not particularly inspired, we get a fair overview of the area’s highlights and that’s about it.

The DVD ends with a collection of three Music Videos. We find Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)”, Christopher Williams’ “I’m Dreamin’”, and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up”. The music and clips vary from the pretty good to the mediocre to the downright terrible. Rap from the early Nineties holds up well, and while Ice-T’s video is little more than a prototype for all the girls and bling pieces we see these days, it’s not bad; at least it lacks the usual surfeit of movie snippets.

I can’t say the same for Williams’ dull video. It showcases many film clips and does nothing creative the rest of the time. The song itself is bland early Nineties soul notable only in a bizarre way since Williams sounds strangely like white boy Michael McDonald.

From their absurd fashion sense to their non-existent sex appeal to the stupid spelling of their name, Color Me Badd was an embarrassment 15 years ago, and they’ve not gotten better with age. They were always the wimpiest vocal lotharios of the era – what’s with the Kenny G-looking guy, anyway? I don’t doubt they did a lot of sexing up back then, but I doubt it was with too many women. And what the hell does “we can do it ‘til we both wake up” mean? “Making love until we drown”? Who writes this nonsense? Terrible song, terrible band, terrible video.

It may lack the societal impact of 1983’s Scarface, but as a film, 1991’s New Jack City holds up better. It presents a still-gritty look at its subject and suffers from only a little of the expected moralizing. The DVD offers excellent picture as well as very good audio and an erratic but often useful set of extras. I think New Jack is worth your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.9166 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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