Directed by: Vondie Curtis-Hall
Starring: Tyrese Gibson, Meagan Good, The Game, H. Hunter Hall
What happens when you combine the director of the 2001 Mariah Carey disaster, Glitter, with a former underwear model? In the case of Waist Deep, you end up with a surprisingly decent B-movie -- with a penchant for absurdity. While never reaching the sublime ridiculousness of, say, Wayne Kramer's recent movie, Running Scared, the makers here manage to allow the melodrama, plot holes and preposterous character names to work to the film's advantage.
Waist Deep follows the story of recently released convict O2 (Tyrese Gibson, Annapolis), so named for his ability to "vanish" from sticky situations, and, one assumes, for his electronegativity. O2 has decided he wants to remain on the straight and narrow in order to take care of his son, Junior (the director's son, Henry Hunter Hall). However, while out driving one day, O2 is approached by Coco (Meagan Good, Roll Bounce), a woman who is apparently part of some sort of business-suit-selling pyramid scheme. During her spiel, O2's vintage Chevy is carjacked with Junior in the backseat. The distraught dad responds by forcing Coco to help him find the tot, since she distracted him just prior to the kidnapping.
O2 and Coco come to learn that Junior is being held by local gang-leader Big Meat (rapper The Game), who wants $100,000 before he'll release the kid. O2 and Coco hatch a plan to steal the money from Big Meat's fences and safe deposit boxes, causing the duo to be tagged (rather redundantly) the "new modern-day Bonnie and Clyde." Other than a few fuzzy plot twists and the requisite gunplay, that's pretty much it -- and that works to the film's advantage.
Director Vondie Curtis-Hall never allows the film to get bogged down in the mechanics of the robberies (or the plot for that matter), and keeps everything moving at a swift pace. He also adds a bit of social commentary, which actually leads to one of the films more clever moments: a car-jacking occurring directly behind a peace rally. But the commentary is kept short, and is never heavy-handed.
The film lives and dies on the strength of its performances. Gibson is an amiable performer, able to bring likeability to his character. Even rapper-turned-actor The Game is able to give a passable performance as a sort of inner-city variant on Daniel Day-Lewis's Bill "The Butcher" (complete with wonky eye) character from the 2002 film, Gangs of New York. This may mostly be due to the fact that he's never given more to do than look angry and say variations on, "Where's my money?" (and he is given the film's best bit of dark comedy when he slaps a man with his own severed hand).
On the flip side, scenes featuring Curtis-Hall's son in the role of Junior are almost embarrassing for the child. The younger Hall has the range of Kermit the Frog, only less life-like, and is not helped by some of the film's worst dialogue -- not to mention his character's odd fondness for toy horses and Civil War action figures.
While Waist Deep could never be mistaken for high art, it does manage to be entertaining, despite its ridiculously absurd ending. The fact that Curtis-Hall realizes he is deep in B-movie territory, and has little aspirations other than making an enjoyable distraction, helps. By the time the ending does come around, the viewer is able to shrug and say, "Well, that seems about right." For a film flatly entrenched in the gulf between great and awful, Waist Deep adds up to a decent 90-minute diversion.
Definitely not for everyone, but there certainly have been more convoluted -- and boring -- ways to spend time at the movies this summer. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.
-- reviewed by guest critic Justin Souther