Menace II Society

"This is the truth. This is what's real."

"Menace II Society" remains the quintessential 90's movie about the lives, loves, and losses of gangbanging brothers trying to survive in South Central Los Angeles. Released one year after the Rodney King Trial, and during the last days of the reign of Eazy-E and NWA, "Menace" feels more like a gritty, slice-of-real-life documentary than the pop culture phenom and Hollywood blockbuster, and black cinematic gem, it has since become.

It helps that the movie boasts a popping cast, all of whom were notable even by 90's standards. On the up and coming side, there is Larenz Tate and Jada Pinkett (the future Mrs. Will Smith), and Tyrin Turner as the main character, an essentially good but misguided South Central wannabe thug named Caine. Samuel Jackson and Bill Duke, seasoned veteran actors, provide strong adult counterparts, the former as a deadbeat dad, and the latter as the fierce detective trying to crack down on crime in the hood.

What makes "Menace" more than the sum total of its title is the manner in which the portrait of the main character, and supporting characters, is painted. Caine's stupidity and volatility is apparent, but he never comes across as heartless or malicious. That card is reserved for Caine's best friend, O-Dog, a no holds barred, careless, entitled street warrior who is determined to get his at all costs. But even in the midst of O-Dog's most ruthless acts, his ignorance shines through, arousing pity on the part of the audience. Furthermore, O-Dog's antics provide classic comic relief, appropriately stealing attention from his flaws, humanizing him, and realistically portraying the juxtaposition of joy and tragedy that give the plot its central texture. When a crackhead offers to perform oral sex on O-Dog, O-Dog shoots the crackhead, then strolls away nonchalantly, as if it's nothing.

The movie centers around Caine's endeavors to become a small time hustler, and escape the hood by relocating. He is determined not to end up like his loser father and heroine addict mother. Narrated by Caine himself, the first person perspective transports the viewer directly into Caine's body and soul. Throughout his struggles, not to mention his complicated near brush with love and his subsequent renunciation of it, and despite his bending of the law, his attempts at victory over adversity and the realizing of his dreams remain front and center, exciting and engaging. Up until the movie's spectacular end, the belief that Caine will prevail is strong, intoxicating, and inspiring. And timeless.

| 1993 | 1 hr 44 min | 7.5/10
Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes
Menace II Society

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