The great thing about direct-to-video market is that it has created an opportunity for a vast array of sequels to films that no one really wanted to see sequels of in the first place. We've all seen these titles on the shelves at our local video store, and thought to ourselves, "How do the second, third and fourth Posion Ivy films stack up to the original?" I mean come on...who hasn't cast a curious glance at American Pyscho II: All American Girl, and found themselves thinking, "I bet that really sucks"? And yet, for whatever reason, far too many people end up watching our fair share of these insidious sequels that often have little or nothing to do with the original film in the franchise.
The latest film to join the ranks of in-name-only sequels is Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club, which has nothing to do with 1998's crappy and convoluted Belly, starring rappers Nas and DMX. A visually stylish hip-hop crime melodrama, the original Belly managed to develop something of a cult following, even though it was, for all intents and purposes, a bad film. This loyal following of blunt-smoking, 40 oz.-swilling gangsta aficionados is the core audience for Belly 2, even though the two films are not related in any way.
LA gangsta rapper The Game stars as G, a recent prison parolee determined to go straight after eight years in the joint. G's determination, however, doesn't last very long, and he is soon up to his old tricks as he embarks on a crime spree with his homeboy, Tone (Michael K. Williams, best known as Omar on The Wire). When G and Tone rip-off another dope dealer, it ignites a deadly gang war, with an impressive body count piling up in their wake. The DEA sets out to stop G, as well as corrupt cop Coleman (Ed O'Ross), who has been keeping the dope trade in LA running smoothly, and sexy agent Alexis (Shari Headley) is dispatched to infiltrate G's world. I think most of you know where that is headed (in no time flat, the respectable Alexis has fallen for G, even though he's a dope dealer and a killer). Soon things are out of control--not that they ever were in control--and the mounting gang violence escalates. The tension mounts as we are left to wonder exactly how our anti-hero will be able to hold on to his dope-dealing empire, keep the girl who is secretly a DEA agent, and kill everyone who crosses his path. Of course, if none of this sounds remotely compelling, this might not be the movie for you.
Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, Belly 2 has the requisite amount of gunplay and dropped bodies to meet whatever quota has been set for films like this. Unfortunately, even though there is a scene in a strip club, there isn't nearly enough nudity for an exploitation film of this nature. But did I mention the violence?
Following the formula laid out in some of the classic blaxploitation films of the 1970s--which in turn were drawing inspiration from the gangster films of the 1930s and 40s--Belly 2, like the original Belly, is a prime example of new jaxploitation. The new jaxploitation genre came into its own with films like New Jack City and Boyz n the Hood, which infused contemporary hip-hop sensibilities into blaxploitation themes. But the problem with a film like Belly 2, which seems to be influenced by the 1973 classic The Mack, is that the social and political themes that were found in the films of the 70s are pretty much missing. There is no underlying theme of personal redemption or higher calling of political awareness to be found in Belly 2. It's simply about a drug dealer who kills a lot of people.
Fans of films like this will enjoy it, in part because it is better than so many other entries in this genre. The story, though simple and lacking in depth, character development or social responsibility, is not as poorly written as other new jaxploitation flicks I've sat through, and there is a certain amount of competency to the direction. The Game, who is given the tremendous responsibility of carrying the film, proves himself to be able to hold his own in the world of rappers-turned-actors. Keep in mind that all that really means is that he is a better actor than 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Pras and all the others who have proven that they should never step from behind the microphone.
For what it is, Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club is not a terrible film. It is, by no stretch of the imagination a particularly good film, but as far as direct-to-video urban crime thrillers go, it is pretty effective in what it is. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the films that cater to the urban market are terrible. And by terrible I don't just mean that these films suck, I mean they suck really badly. The fact that Belly 2 is better than most of these films doesn't say much, while at the same time can be perceived as a ringing endorsement as far as this genre goes.