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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/17/99

1998 (1999) - Artisan

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Belly Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-, A, B+

Specs and Features

95 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), 16x9 enhanced , single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary with director Hype Williams, theatrical trailer, promo reel edited to DMX's Dogs For Life, talent bios, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Close Captioned

It always upsets me when something cool on the outside turns out to be a load of crap on the inside. Belly is one of those times when a movie should have just blown me away, and ended up disappointing me so much that I feel like screaming. Let me tell you why.

Tommy (rapper DMX) and Sincere (rapper Nas) are two buddies who work the street like hustlers -- always looking for the next dollar, dollar bill y'all. When we first meet them, they are storming a strip club to rob it of a table full of money. From there the story goes into about 75 thousand different directions. The boys have problems with their crews, their women, setting up shop in different parts of the country, doing favors for business partners (like assassinating a Jamaican thug), and of course, trying to score huge by dealing a form of heroin so powerful it could kill if too much is even applied to skin (Now that's a spicy meatball!). That's a lot of ground to cover -- but we're not done yet -- Tommy is eventually arrested, and released when a covert group approaches him to infiltrate (what appears to be) the Nation of Islam, to assassinate "The Minister" for some reason. I dunno -- all in all, that's about 4 movies. If Hype invested himself and wrote a trilogy of films about these characters, he might have succeeded in presenting what might be considered an all around entertaining and informative view into today's urban youth culture. Instead, he tries to go all Scorsese on us, and ends up cramming too much movie into 95 minutes.

The moral of the story doesn't even turn up as a plot element until the end of the film, when suddenly there's redemption for one of the characters. It's a thread that didn't so much as pop its head up during the film once. I'm sorry, but the character was totally unredeemable -- for him to turn around in a 5 minute period is silly and a big film killer.

It also doesn't help that Nas and DMX are playing the main characters. Although at times, these two guys showed some promise, ultimately you get what you pay for when you hire musicians to act. The characters are interesting, but sometimes DMX overacts and Nas underacts. The rest of the cast is crammed with rapper/actors Method Man, T-Boz from TLC, and a couple others. The one shining light in the cast is Taral Hicks as Kisha, the bad-ass girlfriend to Tommy, who doesn't take shit. She shows a lot of potential, although Hype wastes her mostly -- lounging her on a bed greased up to showcase her color, and an overflowing bosom. It's too bad -- she could have been a cooler character. But as an actress she really is good, and her last scene is a killer.

Overall, Belly's flaw is building itself too big. As a director, Hype has a great visual flare -- and he must be good with actors, because as bad as some of the acting is, it could have been worse. But his long-winded approach to the story is his downfall. You build something too big, and it'll come crashing down all over the place, which is what happened with Belly. Hype has the potential to become a great filmmaker (as opposed to the great videomaker he already is) and I look forward to his next big project. Let's hope he learns from his mistakes.

As DVDs go, the disc itself isn't too disappointing. The print is really nice. There is some heavy film grain apparent, especially during the darker scenes (which there are a lot of), but it's still a really crisp print. It's 16x9 and looks good blown up, so you video purists out there can let go a cheer. The solid blacks are nice looking, and all the colors comes out bright and well done. Hype uses a huge palette of colors in his videos and they just get bigger in Belly.

The soundtrack is also pretty smooth. My house was shaking on it's foundation with the heavy bass. The field is very natural and clear. Hell, I even understood most of what the Jamaican godfather Lennox was saying. Speaking of saying, Hype has an audio commentary on this disc, which I was ready to rip to shreds, until he started talking about how bad a job he must be doing, and how hard it is to actually do a track. He is monotone, not very excited, and most of the information he provides is about his influences (which are apparent -- De Palma, Scorsese and Stone), and the acting of the rappers (which, as I stated above, was pretty mediocre). Hype really should have had DMX and Nas in the room with him, or a least cinematographer Malik Hassan Sayeed, who did a really great job, by the way. Then he would have found himself better able to bounce stuff around, a la Kevin Smith on his Chasing Amy laserdisc set. To round out the supplements, there's also a trailer, a promo reel and production notes/cast crew bios. Standard stuff, done standardly.

Maybe I just had too much built up anticipation for this film. I heard Hype was doing a project like this a while back, and I started thinking about how cool it would be. You know, a black Goodfellas -- that would rock! Instead Hype gave us a black Casino, and I went away sniffling. Hype, don't make me cry. Do something that'll make us all proud. I'm ready, steady and still waiting.

Todd Doogan

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