'Waist Deep' is the kind of movie I dread reviewing. Being a Midwestern white boy from the suburbs whose first (and so far only) rap album owned is the Beastie Boys' "License to Ill," the world of the "urban street drama" is about as far away from my experience as is possible. So when I see movies like 'Waist Deep' and find them humorous and campy, I'm sure I hold about as much credibility as Dr. Josef Mengele writing a one-star review of 'Schindler's List.'
But however hollow my guffaws might ring, I did nothing but chuckle and cringe throughout 'Waist Deep.' Here's a s movie that strains for significance but only ends up reveling in cliches. Worse, it seems to wallow in the kind of cheap, exploitative violence its story and characters spend the whole movie arguing against. I suppose if it wasn't so stylishly derivative and admittedly entertaining, I might have had more time to be offended.
Tyrese Gibson stars as O2, an ex-con only one strike away from spending life back in prison. But fresh out of the slammer, he's determined to go straight and give his young son, Junior (H. Hunter Hall) the better life he never had. But after the explosive opener when Junior kidnapped in a bloody carjacking, O2 is drawn back to violence and on the lam. With few options, O2 enlists the aid of beautiful hustler named Coco (Meagan Good), who was peripherally involved in the carjacking, to track down Big Meat (rapper The Game), a vicious local thug who likes to chop off the body parts off his enemies with a machete. Meat demands that O2 come up with $100,000 within 48 hours if he wants his son back in one piece. So O2 and Coco take to the streets and stage a series of bank robberies to pay for Junior's freedom.
'Waist Deep' might not have been as problematic if it didn't aspire to be more than just a stylish, exploitative B-movie. Instead, director Vondie Curtis Hall strives for resonance and social commentary, adding a variety of questionable touches to what on paper is standard crime flick fodder. Was Hall being anything but ironic by staging O2 and Coco's crime spree on the same days leading up to a local "Save Our Streets" anti-violence rally? Are we really supposed to align our sympathies with the whining O2 and Coco, two damaged people who go on and on about ending the bloodshed by turning themselves into a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde? (Conveniently, of course, no innocent people are killed during their gun-toting crime spree -- see, they're just misunderstood!) And then there is the movie's moronic conclusion, which is too hilarious to spoil -- you just gotta see it to believe that the filmmakers actually expected us to buy it.
Add to all this Curtis Hall's cribbed visual style -- there isn't an MTV cliche he doesn't miss -- which leaves 'Waist Deep' looking like a dozen other, better urban dramas. Which is a bit of a surprise, because even though Curtis Hall directed the legendary Mariah Carey boondoggle 'Glitter,' he has gone on to helm some very fine episodic television, including 'Sleeper Cell,' 'The Shield' and 'E/R.' Given his recent track record, I hoped for and expected a little more originality and substance out of this one.
What keeps 'Waist Deep' from completely falling into the dumpster are Gibson and Good. Even if Denzel Washington and Halle Berry have nothing to worry about, the pair manage to create a genuine chemistry onscreen and invest their character's cliched backstories with a believable pathos. Still, there is only so much they can do with such poorly conceived material. Perhaps I would have respected 'Waist Deep' a bit more if it had surrounded them with a more credible plot and less hollow politicking. Here is a movie supposedly all about personal choices, yet it implies that its two main characters have only one. There is a potentially thought-provoking and honest story in here somewhere trying to get out, but instead we end up with another one of those irritating violence-filled exploitation movies that preach anti-violence. 'Waist Deep,' indeed -- in hypocrisy.
Universal has produced another HD DVD/DVD combo release for 'Waist Deep,' this one a HD-15/DVD-9 double-sided disc. This 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks nice, with a clean, stylized picture that suits the film well.
I found the film's visual style cliched, so I guess this transfer's slightly overpumped colors and contrasted image are appropriate. Colors are smooth and free of chroma noise, but sometimes the heavy use of filters leaves the transfer artificial in appearance. Fleshtones often look a bit too orange (especially daylight scenes), but I guess the MTV generation likes this kind of stuff nowadays? Whites can sometimes blow out a bit, but again it appears intentional. The image as a result is somewhat soft, but overall detail is still very good. The transfer boasts considerable depth throughout, with even darker interiors appearing at least somewhat three dimensional. And as expected with a new release, the print is in pristine shape with no blemishes or other anomalies to report.
'Waist Deep' gets the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround/1.5mbps treatment, and despite the high bitrate it is not an overwhelming sonic assault. A mid-budgeted affair, the film's sound design has moments of flash and panache, though it sometimes misses prime opportunities for a truly involving experience.
The most prominent element of the soundtrack is the hip-hop song score. The tunes come across most forcefully in the mix, and are often pumped up in volume over the dialogue and effects (and all but obliterate the proper score by Kon Artis and Terence Blanchard. Surround bleed is rather nice on the songs, though effects are surprisingly lacking. We get some gunfire and the occasional speeding car directed to the rears, but otherwise the soundtrack lacks atmosphere. At least dynamics are solid, with nice low-bass extension on the songs, and natural-sound dialogue. Again, no great shakes here (this is no 'Fast and the Furious'), but perfectly listenable nonetheless.
'Waist Deep' is another of Universal's HD DVD/DVD combos, which I'm not too big a fan of. I hate having to flip the disc over to access the bonus features, and I don't really understand what a high-def consumer would want with a standard-def version of the film anyway.
As for this disc's extras, they are pretty slim. Two featurettes only run a combined 12 minutes total, and are hardly in-depth. "Analysis of a Scene" dissects the opening kidnap sequence, from staging a considerable number of set-ups in a single day to wrangling hundreds of extras. "Drive-By Filmmaking," meanwhile, is not about filming at McDonalds but a look at the various cars featured in the film. Why they chose this aspect of the film to highlight above all others (how about the story, or the cast?) is rather curious.
The only other major extra of note is 13 minutes of Deleted Scenes and a few random outtakes. There actually is a considerable subplot here that was snipped out involving two detectives, which I kinda liked. But perhaps, like most of the film, it was too cliched to include.
Rounding out the package is a music video for the song "Bad Girl" by Black Buddafly. No theatrical trailers or other previews are included.
'Waist Deep' is a fairly straightforward "urban" street drama, one that doesn't have much new to say beyond cliches. As for this HD DVD/DVD combo, what it does it does well, though that's minimal. The nice transfer and vibey soundtrack deliver, though the supplements are pretty wimpy. If you're a fan of the genre 'Waist Deep' is worth checking out, though a better bet for urban newbies might be such recent HD DVD releases like 'Four Brothers.'