Despite the appearance of rap superstar Nelly in the small but crucial role of a hip-hop phenom named Prolifik, Snipes plays like a moldy oldie. Although Nelly is top-billed in the ads, the real lead is Sam Jones III as Erik, a high school student known as Philadelphia's top "sniper" - the term for kids who blanket buildings and street poles with ads for rap acts. The shortening of that term to "snipes" may refer to Wesley Snipes, since Erik's best friend, an aspiring rap artist himself, wants to be called Nino Brown, in homage to Snipes' role in New Jack City. Too bad this movie is more tepid than the average Snipes potboiler and even rustier than his mindless Blade pictures.
It plunks Erik in the middle of savage moves and countermoves set off when a handful of street hustlers try to squeeze a fortune out of a sleazy record honcho (Dean Winters). After killing two of his employees, they contend that they've kidnapped Prolifik and are holding the all-valuable master tapes for the rapper's long-overdue album. At the beginning, Erik is so caught up in Prolifik's music and his sniping job that he ignores his father's request to take an exam for employment at the post office. By the end, he's seen his idol go postal - and that post-office exam looks more enticing.
Yes, this film is all about urban disillusionment. For a viewer, though, it's pure disappointment. The director, Rich Murray, who co-wrote the film with Rob Wiser, aims for a curlicue suspense classic like Brian DePalma's Philly-set Blow-Out. Unfortunately, his method of hurtling through a labyrinthine plot is to keep dropping blocks of exposition on the audience's head to justify the latest double-cross.
Attention-getting ploys as various as Erik's crush on a beautiful record-company employee (Zoe Saldana) and his use of a paintball gun in do-or-die crises fail to come across with the requisite poignancy or humor. The performances are grating; Nelly's Prolifik registers as nothing more than a surly egotist. The analysis of the record game as a cutthroat business starts out pedestrian and plummets to laughability with the involvement of local Mafiosi, who fail to hit any high notes - they're not even mezzo-sopranos.
Starring Sam Jones III, Zoe Saldana, Dean Winters and Nelly
Director Rich Murray
Rated R (violence, language)
Released by RuffNation Films
Time 107 minutes
SUN SCORE: *1/2