Viking Night: New Jack City
By Bruce Hall
September 15, 2015
As a writer, I try my best to be original, knowing even as I do that at this point in human history, there's no combination of words I can come up with that hasn't been used before. So it is on this, the rare and seemingly inconceivable occasion that I might have something new to add to the lexicon, that I find myself almost giddy with anticipation. I truly believe that I am in possession of a sentence that’s never been written before.
This means I need to write it down before a meteor hits the earth or I drop dead of a stroke yelling at my kids, relegating this potential nugget of wisdom forever lost to the ages. So, are you ready? Are you sitting down? Oh, how silly of me. Of course you are; this is the Internet. In that case stand up, wipe the Cheetos off your hands and stretch your legs before you get trench foot. Grab some smelling salts too, because you're about to need them.
Okay, that's better. So here goes:
Brian De Palma could learn a lot from Mario Van Peebles.
Boom. There you go. Stamp it in marble under a bust of my exasperated looking face, because I'm pretty sure nobody in the history of time has ever said that. Brian De Palma could learn a lot from Mario Van Peebles - and it has nothing to do with either man's long-standing creative drought. It's because while Scarface is one of my favorite films, I'll be the first to admit that I admire it primarily as a defining moment in the exploitation genre. It's such an audacious piece of work that I remain willfully blind to its many flaws.
But the genius of Mario Van Peebles is that when he cast Wesley Snipes in New Jack City, he intentionally pays homage to De Palma by telling much the same story, but from a more human and purposeful perspective. That's not to say New Jack City ever fully rises above this pedigree; I consider it a worthy addition to the genre that I love just as much, but for different reasons. It's not even a matter of taste; it's more like a dog whistle that operates on a frequency I couldn't ignore even if I wanted to.
But where Scarface centered on one man's descent into the self-indulgent world of cocaine trafficking, New Jack City is a violent exploitation flick with an emphasis on community, and the destructive influence of drugs on the structure of society as a whole. Where Tony Montana was a refugee, Nino Brown (Snipes) never left home, peddling drugs to the same community where he grew up. When we meet him, he's already a rich man, already a murderer, and already the most wanted man in the city.
And then Nino discovers crack, cocaine's idiot little brother. The Roger Clinton of drugs. It's cheaper than coke but far more addictive - meaning more net profit for Nino, and an epidemic for the community. On the other side of town, clean cut NYPD detective Stone (Peebles) has been trying to bring down Nino for years, but his superiors don’t understand what it’s like out there on the streets, because they’ve all been behind a desk for too long! The crack problem is out of control! The streets are running red with blood! The press is having a field day! What’s needed is a pair of cops who don’t play by the rules, but they still get results because they’re from the streets! Enter Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) an inner city cop with a heart of gold, and his partner Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson), the only white guy in this whole movie. Scotty and Nick don’t like each other very much, but they agree on one thing - Nino must be stopped.