Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 4, 2020)
Over the decades, many rap artists shifted from music to movies as actors. However, many fewer found themselves behind the camera.
Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA made that leap back in 2012 via The Man With the Iron Fists, a martial arts flick in which he also played the lead. For 2020’s Cut Throat City, the RZA sticks in the director’s chair, as he brings a reality-based tale this time.
After Hurricane Katrina lays waste to New Orleans in 2005, four childhood friends find little opportunity in their Lower Ninth Ward locale. Though they discover their homes destroyed and no jobs on the horizon, FEMA offers no help.
With no positive prospects, the men turn toward crime, as local kingpin “Cousin” Bass (Tip “TI” Harris) will pay handsomely if they pull off a risky robbery. Inevitably, this gig goes awry, and the friends find themselves with a mix of threats to their survival.
Outside of the Katrina connection, that sounds like a skillion other gritty crime dramas. Does City manage to find anything new to say in the genre?
Nope – not in the least. Cliché-ridden to an extreme, City walks a well-worn path.
Honestly, the Katrina link tends to feel gratuitous and semi-insulting. It comes across like the filmmakers used that real-life tragedy as an attempt to add contrived social relevance, as the natural disaster actually bears little purpose otherwise.
In terms of narrative development, City turns into a mess. It skips through events without much clarity, and it often feels like entire chunks of story go absent.
That becomes a major problem, as the film tends to seem oddly incomplete. Not that I’d call City incoherent, but it often leaps from Point B to Point G without much about Points C, D, E and F along the way.
As alluded, the movie embraces clichés from start to finish. The film embraces the genre with every trite element one can imagine, and it never finds anything creative to do with the characters.
Essentially, City awards loose attributes to each of the friends but it never accomplishes more than that. We find no complexity to the roles, as they seem thin and superficial.
As the narrative progresses, I pursues one predictable choice after another. No tension or drama build, and we wind up with a tedious, stale tale.
It doesn’t help that City often grinds to a halt to lecture the audience about various social issues. Well-meaning as these choices may be, the movie can’t pull them off, as it feels clumsy and pedantic when it embraces these notes.
On the positive side, City comes with a pretty terrific cast. The movie opts for lesser-known actors as the four friends, with Shameik Moore as the most famous due to his lead voiceover role in 2018’s hit Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
However, City populates the rest of the roles with a slew of names. We get performers such as Terrence Howard, Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke, Isaiah Washington and others.
Though their presence adds credibility to the project, none of the actors can redeem the movie. A wholly trite, lackluster attempt at a crime drama, City ends up as a forgettable dud.
Note that an added scene appears a small way into the end credits.