; Rated R
In his film's rather effective initial stages, director/co-writer Vondie Curtis Hall takes the title Waist Deep to heart, wasting no time--foregoing a single title card, even--throwing paroled con Otis, a.k.a. "O2" (Tyrese Gibson) into a precarious situation: his young son Otis Jr. (H. Hunter Hall) is taken from him in a big, energetically staged daylight street chase/shootout. The stage is thus simply, efficiently set for a gritty, hard action thriller with a capable hero leading the charge. If only Hall were content with making a lean, mean action thriller, as he and his film soon find themselves waist deep and in over their head in pretentious ambition.
Joining O2 for his mission to get his son back, initially reluctantly but ultimately as full-fledged partner-in-crime (in the most literal sense) is street hustler Coco (Meagan Good). When Junior's kidnapper, crime boss Meat (The Game), demands $100,000 for his freedom, O2 and Coco go on a bank-robbing spree to raise the cash. The heist scenes are good fun (and gives Good, in her first major league lead, a rare chance to cut loose), but like the energetic action beats these more engaging, if formulaic, aspects are of less concern to Hall than a rather heavy-handed anti-violence message. It's a noble aim to have in a genre riddled with trigger-happy, violence-glorifying stereotype, and every now and again the message comes through effectively: the juxtaposition of O2's slacker cousin (Larenz Tate) being beaten at the same site as an anti-violence rally, the assembled crowd unaware of what's going on literally under their noses; and, best of all, a scene in which O2 and Coco lay bare the tragedy and pain in their pasts. But a subdued, haunting, memorable scene like that is the exception rather than the rule as some already less-than-subtle background news references to Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cracking down on crime but eventually build to some sledgehammer speechifying.
The frustration grows as the whole "escape from the hood for a better and safer life" theme takes more and more precedence over the admittedly derivative but far more effectively done aspects. The light amusement of the "Bonnie and Clyde" angle soon dissipates (and one rather forced, late-in-film joke that appears in the trailer doesn't help), and even the bread-and-butter chases and gunplay lose their luster and urgency; the ultimate showdown with Meat is so abrupt and anticlimactic as if to be a mere afterthought. Through it all, though, the cast does make the most of what they're given. Gibson shows a solid future as a hard action lead (and there is an opening now that Wesley Snipes has sadly been consigned to the direct-to-DVD dustbins); Good, freed from the token sexy girl trap that usually confines her, smoothly juggles the comedic and dramatic duties; the ever-dependable Tate lends credibility to a fairly thankless part (when will he get another crack at a lead role like he deserves?); and in his surprisingly scant screen time, The Game oozes appropriate menace. The one exception would be the junior Hall, the director's son, who sadly doesn't display the natural performing instincts of either his father or mother, Kasi Lemmons.
But all the good will generated by the appealing lead duo and the few effective action sequences is all but wiped away by a wholly expected but no less cheeseball coda. No spoilers here, but its sticky sweetness is so extreme that it nearly plays as surreal parody--particularly in a film that, for most of its run time, obviously strives to address some sort of truth about the harsh, real world.
(written June 23, 2006)
Press Junket Roundtable Transcripts
Waist Deep: The Official Movie Site
The Films of Tyrese Gibson
Tyrese Official Site
Larenz Tate Official Site
The Game Official Site
Waist Deep @ The Internet Movie Database
Waist Deep @ The Movie Report/Mr. Brown's Movie Site/© Michael Dequina
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