Just when you think there's nothing new to be done with either "blaxploitation" tropes or the ghost-with-an-agenda sub-genre of Hollywood gore, along comes Ernest Dickerson's "Bones" to goose the old formulas with crafty street folklore and antic, elasticized wit. The movie is over the top and garish. Its transitions often are sloppy and crude. But it brandishes its excesses like a loud, retro suit.
A chilling montage in the opening credits, showing the time-lapse transition of a benign brick front into a menacing, graffiti-smeared tableau, suggests the movie's brash strategy. It encapsulates how things have gone downhill in the ghetto since the fateful disappearance 22 years ago of Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg). He was a scary-looking but benevolent "mack daddy" who passed out rolls of dollar bills for the old ladies and poor kids who used to smile ever so sweetly in his presence. (Say what you want about neighborhood pimps in the 1970s, but, by George, they had consciences!)
No one knows what happened to Jimmy, but he still haunts the dreams of a few survivors of those days, notably Pearl (Pam Grier), a jittery psychic who lives across the street from a bleak abandoned tenement with her smart, sensitive daughter (Bianca Lawson). Both are mystified when the building is purchased by an enterprising buppie named Patrick (Khalil Kain), who's just dim enough to think that an ugly freestanding building in a dead-zone neighborhood would be a perfect place for a dance hall. Sooner than somebody says, "Hey, let's move into the place before we tear it up," strange noises and shadows begin to ooze from the tenement's musty corners. Dark visions, maggots and a red-eyed wolfhound with a voracious appetite all coalesce into ominous signs of Jimmy Bones' return from the dead, a prospect that makes a handful of people very nervous, including Patrick's wealthy dad (Clifton Powell) and a slimy cop (Michael T. Weiss), who know more than they're telling.
Dogg, as the enigmatic Jimmy, is the movie's drawing card, though he's more of a serpentine presence than a performer here. One feels the specters of both "Superfly's" Ron O'Neal and Clint Eastwood in Dogg's portrayal, which, though wryly amusing, offers only a hint of what he can do as an actor compared with his turn in John Singleton's "Baby Boy." In a gore-fest stuffed with cheese and fake blood, presence counts for a lot, especially when there's an icon such as the indefatigable, ever-magnetic Grier, a pleasure to watch with and without an Afro wig.
MPAA rating: R for violence/gore, language, sexuality and drugs. Times guidelines: inappropriate for children.
Snoop Dogg: Jimmy Bones
Pam Grier: Pearl
Michael T. Weiss: Lupovich
Clifton Powell: Jeremiah Peet
Ricky Harris: Eddie Mack
Bianca Lawson: Cynthia
Khalil Kain: Patrick
New Line Cinema presents a Lloyd Segan Co. production, in association with Heller Highwater productions, released by New Line Cinema. Director Ernest Dickerson. Producer Lloyd Segan, Peter Heller, Rupert Harvey. Executive producers Carolyn Manetti. Screenplay by Adam Simon & Tim Metcalfe. Cinematographer Flavio Labiano. Editor Stephen Lovejoy, Michael N. Knue. Costume designer Dana Campbell. Music Elia Cmiral. Production designer Douglas Higgins. Visual effects supervisor/producer Ariel Velasco Shaw. Makeup and prosthetics effects designer/supervisor Tony Gardner. Art director Gary Myers. Set decorator Tedd Kuchera. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun