Way Past Cool is kind of a cross between urban gang stories like Boyz N The Hood and The Little Rascals. In fact, Director Adam Davidson even opens the movie with some musical clips from Our Gang. While the film tries really hard to be though provoking (and it doesn't fall completely flat on its face in that regard) it still leaves you wanting by the time it wraps itself up.
Once the hip hop begins to blare over the soundtrack though, it's painfully obvious that the Our Gang kids are nowhere to be found in this story and instead we're treated to the antics of a group of gang-bangers from the same age group who roam the streets of Oakland, California (and refer to it as Oaktown).
Known simply as 'The Friends,' our focal group of prepubescent street thugs is lead by a crafty, if chubby, kid named Gordon. And if Gordon's brains aren't enough to convince you he's the leader, his revolver tucked into his belt surely is. One day on the way to school, Gordon and 'The Friends' are hit by a drive-by and soon enough they find themselves in a gang war against an older teenage drug dealer named Deek, who is mad at the kids who refuse to peddle his dope on the street for him.
Deek has a bodyguard named Ty who has a little brother named Danny. Danny is a member of 'The Friends' and now has to decide if he's going to side with Deek and Ty or if he's going to stay true to his colors and back his gang, 'The Friends.'
So thinking back on Way Past Cool it's obvious to me that the ideas were there. The screenplay is based on a best-selling novel by Jess Mowry and was produced by Norman Lear and Milos Forman (who have been responsible for such All In The Family and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest respectively) so the people behind the project knew what they were doing. The talent and credentials to have made this into a well-made social-political drama were in place. So where did the movie go wrong?
The narrator, who brings us through the film, begins his story with the line 'Once upon a time in the hood' and it all goes downhill from there. There are a few lines in his dialogue that are borderline camp and totally suck you right out of the whatever mood the film may have brought to the table.
The movie has its moments though. Some of the performances are quite good (while a few are wildly inconsistent) and a few scenes of serious dramatic tension and even a couple of demonstrations of feel good human compassion make you care about what happens to the kids. It just doesn't hit its full potential because of some goofy narration and a bit too much bad dialogue. A Shame really. But the movie is still worth a look for those looking for a different slant on the urban gang film, and in that respect, it does deliver.
Way Past Cool is presented in its original 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. Transfer quality is decent, though not perfect. While the colors are pretty solid and accurately reproduced, there is some edge enhancement present throughout and some of the darker scenes pixelate and exhibit some compression artifacts.
Two audio options grace the disc – an English Dolby Digital 5.1 and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Subtitles are available in English or Spanish. The 5.1 track is the way to go on this release as it fills out the mix nicely and pulls you in to the movie a little bit deeper than the rather flat 2.0 stereo mix. Dialogue is clean and clear and while the mix could have used a little more in the low end and a bit more action from the rears in a few scenes, for the most part it sounds quite good.
Besides scene selection and a few unrelated trailers in the Sneak Peeks section, there is a modest photo gallery consisting of production stills and promotional photos, a couple of minutes worth of deleted scenes that were cut for good reason as they don't add anything of merit to the film, and a full length commentary track from the director. The commentary is mildly interesting as the films subject matter does lend itself to some controversy that is touched on, but not in enough detail to really make this one a stand out track. If you enjoyed the movie then you'll probably find the track worth listening to but if you were only so-so on the film itself, you probably needn't bother with it.
For a film comprised mainly of child actors, Way Past Cool is surprisingly well acted even if at times it's rather unbelievable. It's an interesting film that wasn't executed as effectively as it could have been but overall it is still worth a look if you catch it on TV or need something to rent one night.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.