My dad loves Scarface too much. It always kind of freaks me out. He legitimately took my mom to see Scarface for their first date (heads up, their divorced now), so clearly my pops thinks that movie is not only a how-to movie for life. It’s also a movie for lovers. Dad, we need to talk. I mean I understand that you loves your home town of Carol City in Miami, that you love a good rags to riches story, even if it’s about cocaine and has a cameo from Richard Belzer, but Scarface? I don’t know how to break it to you, pop, but Scarface might be the most overrated movie of all time.
Scarface is a trash fire, but fear not, Dad. Out of the ashes of that trash fire rose two things:
Paul Engemann’s undeniable banger and motivational tool, the hit song “Push It To The Limit”
and the glorious cinematic phoenix that is New Jack City.
Instead of white guy Oliver Stone using white guy Al Pacino to tell the story of a definitely not-white-Cuban-immigrant and his unconventional American dream (I mean cocaine is white…so there’s that, but still it’s kinda eww), New Jack City is Mario Van Peebles in the director’s chair (for the first time), Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper at the writer’s desk, and the whole project leaning on two powerhouse black actors: Wesley Snipes and Ice-T.
New Jack City tells the tragic story of crack in late-1980s New York. It frames that epidemic betwixt the charismatic and powerful drug lord, Nino Brown (played in a career-making and damn near tax-evasion-forgiving performance by Wesley Snipes) and the smooth any-means-necessary cop, Scotty Appleton (played pitch perfect by Ice-T long before Law & Order: SVU).
What I adore about the film is its almost mythical or mythological sense of stakes. Scarface feels like a movie about one guy with delusions of grandeur and a murderous sense of entrepreneurship (sheesh no wonder my dad likes the movie, ka-pow!). New Jack City makes crack-era New York City feel like a city on the edge of oblivion, a metropolis teetering on the crest of a high cliff that could tumble with any strong wind into the waiting hands of Nino Brown. Scotty Appleton scales the cliff with determined steel, his gun in hand like a hero’s sword, first as a low undercover and finally as the city’s only hope.
Also, we can’t talk about New Jack City without talking about Pookie. Pookie is a crackhead played by Chris Rock. Pookie is also the subject of a borderline Shakespearean tragedy of a short film right smack dab in the middle of the movie. It’s a small and beautiful story, and it’s got more heart than any Al-Pacino-looking-thoughtfully-at-a-blimp you can give me.
Finally, if none of this tells you to watch this movie, this might. In New Jack City, under the careful direction of Mario Van Peebles, in the tradition of blaxploitation, in the tradition of Greek tragic drama, there is the scene where Nino Brown’s crew take over a housing project called The Carter. The scene begins with the crew murdering a rival drug dealer up-close, and, as Nino’s second in command proudly shouts, “in broad daylight!” before speeding away. The scene then fades into a magnum opus, a montage of the takeover set to an a cappella anthem “For The Love of Money” by Troop and Levert. This shit is Oscar worthy. This shit is maybe the best musical of all time. This is this shit here:
Forget about trailers, forget about promos, forget about Wikipedia and excitable bloggers. Watch that link right there and tell me it doesn’t fire you up.
New Jack City is the kingpin of crime movies. And long…long…long may it reign.
So sit your five dollar ass down and watch this movie.