A slick new urban thriller from music video director Hype Williams, "Belly" looks great, sounds good and will probably make pots and pots of money at the box office. Whether or not it has any merit as a movie is another question.
Part "Boyz N the Hood" and part "GoodFellas," the film tells the story of Sincere (played by Nasir Jones, a.k.a rapper Nas), a young fella who has moved out of New York City projects to quaint Queens home on money he "earns" by pulling heists on other drug dealers and selling dope himself. His main homeboy, Tommy (Earl Simmons, a.k.a. rapper DMX), is the real ringleader of their gang and occupies a swank home with trophy girlfriend Kisha (Taral Hicks).
The film follows Tommy and his gang as they overtake out-of-town drug markets and vie to be the first U.S. distributors of a new form of skin-absorbed heroin. To this end, Tommy takes a business trip to Jamaica that seems less an integral plot point than an excuse for Williams to shoot lots of gyrating women on Kingston dance floors to add to the film's many topless bar scenes.
As in "GoodFellas," Williams also spends plenty of screen time on the little tiffs between thugs. These, predictably, result in hurt macho pride and, of course, the impulsive murder of friends.
But their posse really starts to unravel when everyone but Sincere winds up in jail. Tommy, however, is offered a shot at freedom if he can infiltrate a Nation of Islam-like organization and kill its leader on the eve of the millennium.
First-time feature film screenwriter and director Williams has stacked the deck with an all-star cast of rappers along with a smokin' soundtrack and a striking visual style that will surely bring his film success in some circles. Unfortunately, his script is neither original nor particularly palatable to those who don't care to hear the n-word and b-word more than a dozen times in each scene.
Strangely, though, those are the only scenes that bear any sense of reality. Unlike Ice Cube and Will Smith, these rappers have not been able to translate their talents for rhyme into reciting believable dialogue.
Despite its admonitory tone, "Belly" spends so much time caressing images of material wealth, female exploitation, drugs and murder that one has to worry about its effect on youngsters. But with its uneven storytelling and acting glitches, "Belly's" dubious moral stance may be the easiest part of the film to stomach.
Starring Earl Simmons and Nasir Jones
Written and directed by Hype Williams
Released by Artisan Entertainment
Rated R (violence, simulated sex, nudity, language)
Running time: 110 minutes
Sun score: * 1/2
Pub Date: 11/04/98