Run time: 113 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 21st February 2009
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Spike Lee
Screenwriter: Alex Tse
Starring: Ben Crowley as Nick Wade, Ken Leung as Lincoln Ma, Anthony Mackie as K-Luv, Darris Love as Sleepy, Laura Allen as Samantha Wade, T.V. Carpio as Angela Tsing, Kathy Baker as Cleo Wade, James Hong as Kwok, Lamont Bentley as Ahmir, Ewan Chung as Edwin Leong, Omari Hardwick as Dante Ponce, Marguerite Moreau as Jessica Epstein, Judy Pace as Mama June, Eyal Podell as Stephan Cashen, Stanford Chase as Peter Wu (as Stanford Poon)
Actually, the first to stray is the Wade family, when hippy dippy Mom (Kathy Baker) and Dad (John Savage) and their two teenage kids are forced out of their Mission rental due to rising real estate prices. They relocate to Hunter's Point, a tough gang-controlled black neighborhood where random gunfire is the norm. Mom and Dad are so full of liberal guilt that they express sympathy for the hoodlums who immediately ransack their house. Young Nick (Ben Crowley), who steals credit card numbers and deals coke at the finance office where he works, doesn't share his parents' views. Despite the fact that he likes to dress and act like a gangbanger, as so many white teens do, he considers the guys across the street to be animals.
Those guys are the V-Dubs, tough drug dealers who recruit from junior high schools when they need to find replacements for their murdered troops. Chief among them is K-Luv (Anthony Mackie), a banger with a heart of gold -- sort of -- who is among the more thoughtful of the gang and the least likely to explode in random violence. Some of his homies are so unstable that they're truly terrifying.
Over in Chinatown, Lincoln (the excellent Ken Leung) is a neighborhood extortionist whose job it is to go around and collect the weekly protection money for his tong. He's also hot and heavy with the boss's daughter, which is not a good idea since she's engaged to a promising Stanford med student who Dad already loves like a son.
Borders are first crossed when one of the V-Dubs who happens to be a rapper with a CD out finds out his music is being bootlegged and sold in Chinatown. He sends a couple of gang members over to shake up the street vendors, but that only incurs the wrath of the Chinatown gang. At a small summit meeting, K-Luv threatens to trash Chinatown and scare all the tourists away. Lincoln says he'll bring the war to Hunter's Point, but that just amuses K-Luv. "Aint no thing," he chuckles. No one cares down there anyway. There are no tourists to scare away. Eventually the two strike an uneasy truce, and K-Luv gets the idea that he should be in the bootlegging business too (low risk of violence, high profit margins), and he ends up recruiting Nick to help him with the technology side of things. All sorts of strange bedfellows are bred, and the constant threat of violence hangs over everyone.
Of course, any pilot episode is designed to leave lots of loose ends that are meant to be wrapped up by the series that follows. Since there's no series here, the loose ends, and there are lots of them, just dangle, and that's a shame. Lee and scriptwriter Alex Tse have conjured three fascinating worlds, and it's easy to imagine dozens of directions in which plots could have gone. Ah, well. We may as well enjoy these two excellent hours and let our imaginations work on suitable endings for all those compelling characters.