Picks and Pans Review: Menace Ii Society
Opening scenes don't come much more shockingly brutal than this: The Korean owner of a convenience store in Los Angeles's Watts neighborhood tells two black teenagers to pay for the beer they have already started guzzling and to leave his store. One of the two (Tate) shoots the owner through the head and, after forcing the dead man's wife to hand over the videotape from a surveillance camera, kills her too. "I knew it was going to be a long summer," says Tate's buddy (Turner), the film's ostensible hero.
Where can a movie go from there? On to even more numbing episodes of carnage and pat sociological explanations (absent fathers and easy drug money) of how the two teenagers got to the point where killing someone is just another way to spend a day. As Turner's character says, "I had done too much to turn back, and too much to go on."
Its excesses aside, Menace II Society has sincerity and stylistic flair. Allen and Albert Hughes, the 21-year-old twin first-lime filmmakers who directed the movie and helped devise its narrative (Tyger Williams wrote the screenplay), really know how to tell a story and where to put their camera. There are scenes here that are chillingly fresh, such as the one where Tate repeatedly shows the video of the convenience-store murder to his pals and brags that he's going to sell copies, and one where Turner watches It's a Wonderful Life on TV as if viewing a documentary about Martians. The young cast does well, and there's a deft cameo by Charles S. Dutton of TV's Roc as a lather doing his best not only to save his own son but help out the other boys in the 'hood. (R)