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Ernest R. Dickerson
DMX, David Arquette, Michael Ealy, Drew Sidora, Antwon Tanner, Robby Robinson, Luenell Campbell
Writing Credits:
Donald Goines (novel), James Gibson

No king rules forever.

DMX (Cradle 2 The Grave, Exit Wounds) will blow you away as King David, a cunning and charismatic leader of the streets who returns to his home turf seeking redemption ... but finds only brutal retribution. Co-starring David Arquette (Scream 1, 2 & 3) as an aspiring reporter, seduced by a culture of drugs and violence, Never Die Alone is a "gritty, intense and unforgettable urban tale" (Wireless Magazine) of ruthless gangsters and cold-blooded revenge.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$3.089 million on 1161 screens.
Domestic Gross
$5.644 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 7/13/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Ernest Dickerson, Screenwriter James Gibson and Actor DMX
• 11 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “Making-Of” Featurette
• “Inside Look”


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.


Never Die Alone (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2004)

Although only a few rock stars managed to establish themselves as viable movie actors, teems of rappers have made that leap. From big names like Will Smith to character performers like Ice Cube, the screens are full of rappers turned actors.

DMX hasn’t made it to Smith level, but at least he’s shown enough clout to merit a lead in Never Die Alone. Ala Sunset Boulevard, the flick opens with a shot of “King” David (DMX) in his casket, and the dead man narrates the action. It then hops back two days to show how he got to that point.

David returns from a long period away to “set things right”. He owes $30,000 to local criminal boss Moon (Clifton Powell). Although Moon states he won’t send his men, he directs enforcers Mike (Michael Ealy) and Blue (Antwon Tanner) to get the bucks. We quickly see that bad blood exists between Mike and David, as the former clearly reacts negatively to the latter’s return.

After some hints that he stabbed backs before he left, David pays the enforcers. He antagonizes Blue, who then decides to try to kill him with Mike. This encounter leaves both Blue and David wounded. Bar patron Paul (David Arquette) comes to David’s aid. He drives David to the hospital, where he soon dies. In appreciation, David makes Paul his beneficiary as long as he takes care of the funeral.

Moon claims he’ll try to help his men, but he instead intends to clean up the mess, an action that seems likely to leave them dead. Indeed, Blue fails to survive the events, and Mike’s sister Ella (Drew Sidora) also buys it. This obviously upsets Mike, who goes off on a mission of revenge. Moon decides to take care of business, which means sending his men to get Mike as well as Paul, since the witness may have learned intimate details from David.

In the meantime, Paul roots through David’s things and finds the audio tapes he recorded as his autobiography. Despite the criticism of his girlfriend Nancy (Aisha Tyler), Paul delves deeper into David’s past, and we see flashbacks to discover what happened to the thug between his departure from New York and his recent return.

Movies don’t need to feature lead characters who demonstrate redeeming qualities, so I won’t fault Alone due to the moral depravity demonstrated by David. However, movies do need to present interesting stories about those characters, and that’s where Alone falls short.

Some of this comes from DMX’s flat performance as David. It felt like he searched for his lines much of the time, as he failed to make David anything more than a generic thug. DMX lacked real presence and came across as amateurish, for his performance failed to demonstrate depth or passion.

Some of the others fare better, though they don’t get much character to display. Paul exists as nothing more than an expository personality. His role presents nothing more than a cheap excuse to delve into David’s past. Mike is probably the strongest personality of the bunch, especially via the chilly performance offered by Ealy.

Nonetheless, most of the characters fail to become interesting or compelling, and the overall story remains bland as well. It seems like little more than the usual thug silliness, and David’s declarations of a need for redemption ring hollow. We see him as a truly nasty piece of work, without any worthwhile characteristics. A cheesy twist at the end doesn’t make the tale succeed any better.

Despite his talent as a cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson seems like a very pedestrian director. He brings little life to Alone, as he relies on too many cheap gimmicks to shoot the action. He films the story in a predictable manner, with too much handheld work along the way. This feels like a bland way to try to give the movie a documentary sense, but it just comes across as choppy and annoying. Add to that a color palette that telegraphs emotions - sickly greens, icy blues, etc. - and the movie features little visual creativity.

Ultimately, Never Die Alone offers a disjointed tale that doesn’t connect well. It leaps about from past to present without much coherence, and it displays uncompelling characters without much depth. It’s a bland piece of gangster nonsense.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Never Die Alone appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Despite a few small concerns, the image mostly looked solid.

Sharpness usually appeared crisp and detailed. Occasional wider shots demonstrated some light softness, but not anything extreme. Otherwise, the movie remained distinctive and clear. Moiré effects and jagged edges showed no concerns, but some mild edge enhancement did mar the presentation at times. Print flaws were essentially non-existent. The movie showed grain at times that seemed intentional, but that was it.

Alone went for a heavily stylized palette, which meant that colors varied a lot. Some scenes seemed blue, others went for green, and some became brown. The LA shots delivered a dense gold tone. Nonetheless, they came across as accurate and distinct within those parameters. The hues rarely looked natural, but they weren’t supposed to generate that appearance, so I was satisfied with the tints found during much of the movie. Black levels seemed to be fairly deep and rich, though a few shots looked a bit murky. In addition, shadow detail was acceptably clear and appropriately opaque, but occasional bits seemed somewhat dense. Ultimately, the image seemed satisfying.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Never Die Alone was similarly decent but not spectacular. Though somewhat subdued, the mix served the story acceptably well. The soundfield emphasized the front channels. Music presented good stereo imaging, and effects popped up from the sides well enough to create a decent sense of environment. Not a lot happened, though. Occasionally elements moved from side to side, but mostly the track simply showed general ambience. The surrounds mostly just reinforced the front speakers and added almost little unique audio.

The quality of the sound was fairly good. Speech came across as natural and distinct, and I noticed no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Effects seemed acceptably accurate and clean. Music was rich and clear, and the occasional rap songs demonstrated nice range. Bass seemed tight and firm, with good thump. Nothing about the audio of Alone stood out, but it worked fine for this flick.

A smattering of extras round out the DVD. We get an audio commentary from director Ernest Dickerson, screenwriter James Gibson, and actor DMX, all of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. The piece starts on an unusual note, as DMX performs a rap that also plays over the end credits. It’s not a good number, and matters degenerate from there.

Much of the blame falls on DMX. He doesn’t appear to understand why he’s there, and he often goes onto unrelated tangents while the others speak. He seems surprisingly inarticulate, and he’s so distracted that he actually makes cell phone calls during the session!

Not that DMX ruins an otherwise good track, for the rest of the commentary seems very lackluster. Dickerson and Gibson occasionally toss out decent production notes like issues connected to the adaptation of the original story, deleted and altered sequences, pressures caused by a very short shooting schedule, and some acting notes. Unfortunately, much of the time we just hear praise for the film and all involved, and more than a few examples of dead air occur.

DMX departs about halfway through the movie, and matters improve somewhat from there. The commentary doesn’t soar when we only hear from Dickerson and Gibson, but they seem better focused on the film and offer more cogent details. These moments moderately redeem a previously miserable track, but it remains no better than lackluster as a whole.

Next we find a collection of 11 deleted scenes. Most of these offer small bits that pad out existing concepts, and the majority revolve around the Paul character. We see moments that precede his current introduction in the film and watch a little more development. Nothing substantial occurs, though, and the cuts seem worthwhile.

We can view these with or without commentary from Dickerson and Gibson. They give us some notes about the scenes and occasionally - maybe half the time - tell us why they got cut. Usually, this is because of time reasons, but some studio pressures also appear. The commentary offers some minor details but not much.

Next we find a featurette simply called The Making of Never Die Alone. It mixes movie clips, a few shots from the set, and sound bites. We hear from DMX, Dickerson, and actors Michael Ealy, and David Arquette. Entirely promotional, they reveal very little about the movie, and that leaves this as a superfluous program.

In the domain, we find promos for Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter, The Young Master and Royal Warriors. More ads show up in Inside Look, an “exclusive insider’s look at upcoming projects from Fox”. This presents a featurette for Taxi, a Jimmy Fallon effort. We get a synopsis plus notes from actors Fallon and Queen Latifah. We also see that movie’s trailer in this very promotional piece.

A rambling and bland gangster flick, Never Die Alone suffers from many flaws. Key among them are a flat performance from its lead and a lack of coherence. The DVD presents fairly good picture and audio as well as a mediocre set of extras. Fans of street gangster flicks can do much better than this dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8421 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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