Bishop, Steel, Raheem and Q are best friends headed for nowhere on the mean streets of a corroded New York City neighborhood. Young, not especially gifted, and black, they skip school most days to hang out at the pool hall, shoplift records, dodge the police or lounge at home drinking beer and watching TV. Although not yet out of their teens, their lives are effectively over.
That's the harsh message in this well done but bleak coming-of-age film—or, more accurately, not-coming-of-age, since two of the four will die and a third will barely survive a shooting. Ernest R. Dickerson, the cinematographer responsible for the distinctive visual sheen of Spike Lee's movies, makes his debut as a screenwriter (with Gerard Brown) and director.
It's a commendable initial effort, with a propulsive narrative and good performances by a young, no-name cast. But the film seems excessively limited in its reach and its characters, particularly when compared with John Singleton's debut, Boyz N the Hood. What's missing for the viewer in Juice ("juice" is street argot for respect) is an adult role model or any sense that there is a chance, or even hope, that one of these kids will get out. The most talented of the quartet, Q (Epps), aspires only to being a rap deejay, mixing and scratching records at dance clubs, which is not quite the same as bucking to get into medical school.
This may be the way it is in the 'hood, but it's not the way you want it to be in the movies. Which isn't to say that this isn't a worthy movie, just that it's a profoundly sad one. (R)