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Str. John Leguizamo, Isabella Rosellini, Peter Sarsgaard
Wrt. / Dir. Franc Reyes
Opens December 6th

Power. Money. Drugs. Hair.

If you have any interest in seeing Empire, then for the love of God, don't watch the trailer. For some reason the idiot producers have decided to give away the movie's plot twist, which is the only thing that makes the movie interesting. If you haven't seen the trailer then here's a little synopsis: Victor (Leguizamo) is the self-described "young, good-looking and Latin," drug lord of a neighborhood in the south Bronx. He's got it all: an expensive car, a hot girl, and a drug supplier with the sexiest accent in the history of cinema (Rosellini). So, what happens when he decides to cut clean and go straight with his new best friend and investment banker Jack (Sarsgaard)? Nothing much good obviously. I mean, these are the drug-loving aught years, where every TV show has at least one pot-head, alcoholic or speed freak; remember the good old days of the Very Special Episodes of Growing Pains, or the critically renowned "Greg Smokes a Cigarette" Brady Bunch? Come on! We need a That 70's Show where the gang confronts Fez on his abuse of Whippits and Amyl Nitrate? And what about a certain New York gubernatorial candidate winning %13 of the vote by claiming he'll make cocaine legal? There are dark times ahead for the straight and narrow, mark my words. But, indeed, do not see the trailer to Empire… or maybe you should see the trailer and then just skip the movie.

The Pros:

It's nice to see Leguizamo playing a dramatic lead for once. After that horrible fiasco with Spawn I feared that his career might be over, kind of like what happened with Pee-Wee Herman in the porno theater, only Leguizamo's fall was much less dignified. Let that be a lesson to you all -- if anyone ever asks you to dress up as a 600 pound demonic clown, run…far.

The acting is good all around. Leguizamo and Peter Sarsgaard specifically are great together. There is chemistry between these two very different, but ultimately similar characters, which the actors play with wonderfully. The rest of the cast is nothing stellar, although my darling Isabella fiercely contends with Leticia Bredice (Nine Queens) for the Bitchiest Bitch We-Bergie.

The style of writing and the dialouge is extremely real. This can often times prove deadly when one's actors then attempt to actually act. Any feigned emotion when juxtaposed with completely true-to-life dialogue comes across as hammy and trite. With Empire, however there is very little feigning. The actors, for the most part throw their words around the screen without much pause as to what they are saying. Lines are mumbled over, cut short and generally ignored. Aside from Leguizamo's running narrative, there are no monologues, or philosophical diatribes. This, I think, is pretty cool. While the movie delves into two very different worlds that most of us know nothing about (the seedy coke-driven gang war and the posh high-stakes investment nightmare) the movie stays grounded with its dialogue and its characters and feels very real and very possible.

The Cons:

There are a lot of cool, nifty, things about Empire. But there is one glaring fault: It's predictable and boring and there is next to no originality. It feels as though every little facet of Empire has been used up and dried out by countless numbers of movies through the ages. It presents two very interesting worlds, but then hardly scratches the surface of either, instead letting the audience ride up on top-- relying on stereotype and cliche to provide the details we're all looking for.

Ultimately I can't help but feel like the wrong movie was made. There are so many interesting stories that want to come out of Victor's empire up in the Bronx, but as soon as he is transplanted to Soho everything loses it's magic. The drug world from the point of view of a drug lord sounds pretty damn cool, but the movie starts just as Victor is trying to get out of it. What we do see only makes us beg for more. The investment banking world is, apparently, nothing more than the drug world with a glitzy backdrop added. That's an interesting idea, but why not explore it a little? There were tons of avenues that Empire could have taken, but the one it chose is trite and uninteresting.


Hair: Three bottles of Vidal Sassoon
While it may be a little anachronistic-- making you wonder if the movie is taking place in the 1980's, Isabella Rossellini's hair is a thing of glory. It looks like there's a well-groomed baby cousin It sitting atop her fabulous Italian head.

Boyz: Three Mambo Mouths
Leguizamo is still damn beautiful. He's getting a little gut in his thirties, but it's one of those cute guts, that look like it'd be fun to bounce on. I actually enjoyed the movie just because of that. How lame am I?

Style: Three cans of Bed Head
It's a very slick movie. It looks good, moves quickly, has well paced action, and cleans itself up nicely when it's done. A lot of people are going to like this movie solely because of how slick it is.

Overall: One-and-a-Half of the Hippest Hipsters in Hiptown
There's an awful lot going for this movie. But some pretty crucial things piled up against it.

--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | December 2002 | Issue 33
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