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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Krush Groove
Krush Groove
Warner Bros. // R // January 14, 2003
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted January 10, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The past months have seen the release of some of the seminal films from hip-hop's short history. Wild Style represented the earliest era of hip-hop's development while Scratch recapped the history of DJing and Wave Twisters seemed like a blast from the future. In the years after Wild Style defined street cred with its grafitti artists-eye-view of the birth of hip-hop culture Hollywood tried to co-opt the growing movement with a few fun but overly glossy flicks like Beat Street, Breakin' and the immortally titled Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (recently announced for a DVD release of its own.)

For all their qualities, those films never got underneath the skin of the young hip-hop scene the way the raw Wild Style did. The only film of the era to approach that classic for sheer rappin' joy is Krush Groove which gathers some of early rap's hottest stars, plus some amazing cameos, to tell the story of one of the first rap moguls.

Krush Groove tells the story of Russell Walker (Blair Underwood), a young rap producer modeled on Russell Simmons, creator of Rush Management and Def Jam Records. Simmons is still one of the chief forces in hip-hop and a scenemaker of Puffy-sized proportions. But at the time he was just the scrappy promoter of acts like Run DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. (He also later pushed Public Enemy and Method Man.) The real Simmons started Def Jam with producer Rick Rubin in Rubin's NYU dorm room and, in the film, Walker heads Krush Groove records (Krush Groove, Def Jam... get it?) with Rubin gamely playing himself. Many of the main characters, in fact, are played by their real-life counterparts. So you get Run DMC (Run's quite good, DMC's stiff), the Fat Boys (hilarious), Shiela E (musically out of place but fun) and old school legend Kurtis Blow all emoting like pros. The main plot finds Run (Simmons real-life brother) and Russell coming to conflict over Shiela E's affections and Run abandoning Krush Groove in the process. (In real life Run DMC signed to another label early on as well and have been stuck with a career ending bum deal ever since.)

There are plenty of sub-plots, some excellent (the Fat Boys provide great comic relief, particularly in the endlessly silly "All You Can Eat" musical sequence) and some a little under-developed (Russell gets into a slick fur dealer for some cash, but not much comes of it.) The movie as a whole has a really innocent feeling with all of the young cast members exuding charm and charisma. Run, Shiela E, and Rubin in particular have the fresh-faced honesty that professional actors might not have brought to the roles. Some of the acting may be a bit creaky by technical standards but there is an energy to the film that can't be faked. For his part, Underwood anchors the film with a sly performance but doesn't stick out as the sole pro. He plays the fast-talking Russell well enough that viewers can be forgiven for thinking he, like his co-stars, is just playing himself.

One of the best things about Krush Groove is spotting the small roles by rappers who have hit it big since. The list is short, but memorable. LL Cool J performs a snippet of his break-out hit "I Can't Live Without My Radio" in a dynamite scene. He tears the screen up with his wiry, youthful energy. Similarly, the Beasties appear briefly doing their raucous "She's On It" in what seems like a drunken haze. Neither act had broken big at the time of the film but it's interesting to note that, unlike Run DMC, the Fat Boys or Kurtis Blow, it was these as-yet-unproven acts that really have had the most lasting careers.

As for the real Russell Simmons, he turns up in a small role as well. The gang's all here. And the tunes are too. The film includes some great songs, like Run DMC's "The King of Rock," Blow's "If I Ruled the World," the Fat Boys' "Don't You Dog Me," and Sheila E's strange "Holly Rock." (In fact, all of Shelia E's songs bear the unmistakable stamp - and background vocals - of a certain diminutive paisley-clothed performer from Minneapolis.) It also features a live version of "It's Like That" from Run DMC that just lights the screen up.

VIDEO:
The anamorphic widescreen video looks as good as can be expected. Cinematography by Ernest Dickerson (a year before he shot Spike Lee's feature debut She's Gotta Have It) is pretty raw. The transfer is a bit soft and the colors often muted, but that could just be the condition of the film elements. Certainly an acceptable transfer.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is just right. The music has kick and energy. The spare style of early Run DMC and LL Cool J contrast with the glossy productions of Shiela E and Kurtis Blow but they all sound good. No fancy multi-channel remix is necessary. These are the breaks.

English and French subtitles are also available.

EXTRAS:
Feature length commentary from director Michael Schultz (who also helmed The Last Dragon and Cooley High) along with star Blair Underwood is included. Also edited are some comments from Source magazine senior editor Brett Johnson. Johnson isn't too interesting, often stumbling on the tidbits and trivia he brings to the table, but Underwood and Schultz are good to listen to as they reminisce over the experiences they had making the film. They do tend to repeat stories (it makes you wonder if the commentary is cobbled together from several sessions) but they have energy and are a fun listen. No mention, however, is made of the legendary riot that occured at the film's 42nd street premiere (more on that story here.) Another key moment not mentioned is the recent shooting death of Run DMC DJ Jam Master Jay, which occured after the commentary was recorded. Jay has a small role in the film but in his band's live performance he commands his wheels of steel with confidence and bravado. RIP JMJ.

The disc also includes the music video for the title song which features most of the film's stars trading verses. Also included is "Tender Love Live with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis," which sounds like it's just a live rendition of the film's love ballad by the now-legendary songwriter - producers who wrote it, but is actually a funny, enjoyable interview with the uber-successful duo about their career. Good stuff. A trailer for Krush Groove is also available.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Krush Groove, like Wild Style is a jewel in the small collection of early hip-hop flicks. Between the performances, the cameos and the overall energy level, this is absolutely required viewing for any rap fan. Beyond that, just about anyone else can find something to enjoy in this simple, entertaining movie.

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