Waist Deep


Tyrese Gibson as O2
Meagan Good as Coco
Larenz Tate as Lucky
The Game as Meat
Darris Love as Rock
Johnny C. Pruitt as Guard
Paul Terrell Clayton as Black Security Guard
Earl Minfield as Bank Manager
Dagmar Stansova as Bank Woman

Directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall

Poor writing, acting and filmmaking mars what could have been a decent premise, but most of it is such an awful throwback to bad African-American stereotypes from the ’70s that it’s an embarrassing effort, at best.

After getting out of jail, O2 (Tyrese Gibson) has been working as a security guard, but when his son Junior is kidnapped by a local drug dealer (The Game), O2 is dragged back into the world of crime, teaming with his inept cousin Lucky (Larenz Tate) and a brainy hooker named Coco (Meagan Good) to get the money together to buy his son back.

Everyone should be allowed a second chance, and director Vondie Curtis-Hall certainly has been giving a number of them after his involvement in the making of the Mariah Carey flop “Glitter.” His latest movie “Waist Deep” is a step back to the crime flicks that were fairly commonplace during the early ’90s. I may be wrong, but I would think that in this day and age, African-American audiences would hope for more sophisticated entertainment than a movie that glamorizes violence, drug dealing and prostitution.

It starts well enough with Tyrese Gibson’s O2 picking up his son Junior at school, but when he’s carjacked, it turns out to be a set-up by a tough gangster named Meat (rapper The Game), trying to get his hands on money that disappeared after a robbery he committed with O2 years earlier. This means that O2 has to get $100,000 to Meat by the next night if he wants his son to live, so he works with a street prostitute named Coco to try to get the money by whatever means possible, turning them into a “modern-day Bonnie and Clyde”—as the news reporters keep reminding us.

Simple enough premise, sure, and yet a lot of it doesn’t make very much sense. Early in the movie, O2 tells Coco that he can’t go to the police to help get his son back, because he has “two strikes” against him. Yet, he doesn’t think twice about shooting people, robbing banks and doing all sorts of things that will most certainly be his third strike. They also decide to pit Mean and Coco’s pimp against each other for no apparent reason, a plan that never really comes to fruition. Instead, they begin stealing money from safe deposit boxes owned by Meat, not thinking twice that he might figure out that they stole the money from him. As would be expected, the film culminates in a face-off between 02 and Meat, followed by an O.J. level chase with a dozen police cars on O2’s tail.

You might think that this kind of movie offers a lot of action and the foot chase by Tyrese after the car holding his son sure makes it look promising, but that’s not really the case. The movie is pretty slow with lots of talking but very little exposition that elevates the characters above their roles. In that sense, 02 is only the hero of the piece by default, since his character rarely does anything that might be considered heroic. He obviously loves his son enough to do anything to save him, and he keeps Coco from being beaten by her pimp, but his actions are almost as bad as Meat, who uses a machete to chop the arm off a henchman who isn’t pulling his weight.

The big problem is that Tyrese just isn’t very believable as a tough guy, especially not after seeing him making a “pinkie promise” with his son just minutes before ruthlessly shooting his kidnappers. It’s a pretty erratic performance, though fairly one-dimensional at the same time.

Meagan Good is talented enough to make more out of her roles in bad movies, even when constrained by the limits of bad writing. In this case, she uses her sexuality to good comic effect, distracting security guards and others with a bit of flirting. The misogynistic way that women are treated in this movie is on par with the current rapper mentality, and Good really should be beyond playing these sorts of submissive roles. Still, Good does her best to keep things from going into the toilet, and you can almost see the point where she gives up and stops trying to rise above the bad writing. It doesn’t help much that Gibson is so stiff in their scenes together.

Making his big screen debut, The Game really is quite awful, basically playing a caricature of his rap persona. Fortunately, his screen time equals about ten minutes at the most, because his character is a joke. I hate to bash young actors, but newcomer H. Hunter Hall is also grossly miscast as O2’s son, playing the part far too soft and girlish for a kid brought up in that sort of environment and upbringing. The far more experienced Larenz Tate isn’t that much better as Lucky, who tries and fails to offer some comic relief.

Even worse than the acting is the way the movie is made, so poorly lit, shot and edited that it’s often hard to watch. The camera never knows where it’s supposed to be and has trouble keeping up with the actors, even during the slow dialogue scenes, while many scenes are either too dark or have odd lighting that reflects off the camera. This sort of bad filmmaking really kills any chance of the movie overcoming its limitations and incongruities. It really could have used a bit more style and flair ala Wayne Kramer’s “Running Scared” since the poor quality just makes the bad writing and acting more obvious.

Essentially, this is another bad movie made by a black filmmaker who really should be using his resources to make something with a bit more depth and meaning at least to the audience and community he’s trying to reach. It’s a shame that Hall doesn’t use his status to finance films with a more positive note rather than making another movie that tries to make it cool to steal, deal, kill and treat women poorly without any of the lessons or repercussions of much better films of this nature.

The Bottom Line:
As much as I’d like to give Hall’s latest crime drama the benefit of the doubt, the ridiculous story and characters wouldn’t be so bad if the whole thing wasn’t such a terrible throwback to some of the worst African American stereotypes. It’s really more of a tragedy than a disappointment that movies like this are still being made.