New Jack City [1991]

Director: Mario Van Peebles
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 97 minutes

Some pundits called it a flawed, exploitative action film that glamorized drug dealing and the luxury of a lucrative criminal lifestyle, spawning a trend of films that attracted youth gangs and provoked violence in theaters. Others hailed it as a breakthrough movie that depicted drug dealers as ruthless, corrupt, and evil, leading dead-end lives that no rational youth would want to emulate. However you interpret it, New Jack City is still one of the first and best films of the 1990s to crack open the underworld of cocaine and peer inside with its eyes wide open. It's also the film that established Wesley Snipes as an actor to watch, with enough charisma to bring an insidious quality of seduction to his role as coke-lord Nino Brown, and enough intelligence to portray a character deluded by his own sense of indestructible power. Director Mario Van Peebles stretched his otherwise-limited talent to bring vivid authenticity and urgency to this crime story, and subplots involving a pair of tenacious cops (Ice-T, Judd Nelson) and a recovering coke addict (Chris Rock) provide additional dramatic tension. Although some critics may hesitate to admit it, New Jack City deserves mention in any serious discussion about African American filmmakers and influential films. --Jeff Shannon

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