Just Another Day is about two rappers in Miami: one on the way up -- kinda -- and the other on the way down. A-Maze (Wood Harris) got caught up in a shooting at a nightclub over a beef with another rapper (Petey Pablo). He wasn't the one who pulled the trigger, no, but the whole thing is still drawing all kinds of attention he doesn't want. A-Maze's label, meanwhile, wants to cash in on his infamy. Yeah, yeah, his new album isn't ready yet, but they still wanna strike while the iron's hot, especially since his sales have been way down for a couple of years now. His manager (Inny Clemons) wants to cut out that kind of bullshit and start a label with A-Maze, and he even has his eye on their first signing: Young Eastie (Jamie Hector). This is a kid who still lives at home with his single mom, and he's selling weed out the drive-thru window at a fast food joint to try to make ends meet. He has to be beg, borrow, and steal enough cash to get his demo out the door of the studio. 'Course, it's kinda hard for Young Eastie to make it to a meeting with A-Maze and company seeing as how he doesn't have a car and is caught in the crosshairs of seemingly every thug in Miami. Set pretty much entirely in the space of 24 hours, Just Another Day follows the two rappers as they struggle to survive to see tomorrow, and it probably goes without saying that their two very different stories inevitably collide.
I mean, I get what Just Another Day is trying to do. The moral messages are unmistakeably defined. The grown-ups in Young Eastie's life are a hell of a lot smarter than he gives 'em credit for. Violence and crime aren't glorified at all. Eastie doesn't want to get caught up in being a thug -- kinda tough for an unknown rapper to book studio time in prison -- and A-Maze shrugs all that off as childish bullshit he'd just as soon leave behind him in the rear view mirror. Every mistake -- every lie, every crime, every exploitative action -- has consequences. Young Eastie's doing some pretty shady things to work his way up, and every bit of it comes back to haunt him. He thinks he's getting his big break, but the closer he gets, the more he clues in that there are thousands of other wannabe rappers clutching a demo in their hands. Being an established rapper isn't all that easier. There's plenty of cash, yeah, but there's always another up-and-comer who'd kill to take your place,
It does feel like Just Another Day is triple-underlining a bunch of those morals, kind of like an R-rated after-school special, but at least its heart is in the right place. Part of the problem is that it's a loose premise and a few good ideas in search of a movie. Both screenwriter Iain Kennedy and director Peter Spirer come out of the documentary world, and though both have made plenty of flicks about hip-hop, Just Another Day is their first stab at this kind of movie. A lot of the core elements -- broken home, being dragged down by hanging out with the wrong people, sex vs. love, hustling on the street to make a buck, fame being a bitch -- are more than a little familiar by this point, and the way Just Another Day tries to string 'em all together generally doesn't gel. The pacing can be really scattershot, dragged down by a lot of wheel-spinning in the middle stretch. Spirer's direction comes across as really stiff, and the movie's one and only sex scene, an SUV chase, and a beatdown near the end are all clumsily staged and edited. There's a rap video shoot that's laugh-out-loud embarrassing, and I'm really fascinated by one scene where a couple of thugs force Young Eastie to freestyle at gunpoint. ('Cause if he doesn't, he's gotta be a snitch. Or something.) The ending, where the two parallel stories finally intertwine, does its best to defy expectations. I get that its final moments are unsatisfying by design, but it's to the point where I walked away wondering "wait, what was the point of me watching that again?" Hector, Clemons, and Harris do their best with what they're handed, although the supporting cast and rapper cameos are so hit-or-miss that they kinda drag the whole thing down. The soundtrack's decent but isn't really enough to salvage the rest of the movie.
That's a lot of bitching, I know, but in the end...? I didn't mind Just Another Day. It's a completely tolerable flick. Is it really worth shelling out fifteen bucks to buy something where the best I can do is shrug and say "it's okay, I guess"? Nah. I'd say that if you're really up for watching Just Another Day -- especially if you're into the idea of seeing a couple of the guys from The Wire together again -- stick with a rental. Rent It.
Kneejerk reaction: Just Another Day doesn't look like I'm spinning a shiny, brand new Blu-ray disc so much as catching something on HBO-HD. The lighting and cinematography all leave it looking more like a TV show than a movie. The high-def cameras used here aren't exactly bleeding-edge either, so detail and clarity are both pretty lackluster. Close-ups generally come through great, but the seams definitely start to show whenever the camera eases back. Backgrounds look a little noisy at times, and the image becomes softer and starts to buzz under low light. Colors briefly get pretty stylized during a kinda goofy rap video shoot but otherwise look very natural. Highlights can get very blown-out, though, especially early on. So, yeah: not exactly demo material or whatever.
Just Another Day fits on a single layer Blu-ray disc with plenty of room to spare. The video's unmatted -- a screen-filling 1.78:1 -- and has been encoded with AVC.
Just Another Day is packing a lossless 5.1 soundtrack and all, but again, it still sounds like I'm watching something on cable. The mix never really seems sure what to do with the surround channels. Sure, some of the harmonies and keys from the score leak into the rears, but otherwise, pretty much everything is anchored up front. It probably goes without saying that hip-hop dominates the soundtrack, so I was expecting the low-end to rattle everything in the room. There's definitely no shortage of bass, but it doesn't have that extra kick I've come to know and love outta Blu-ray. The same goes for pretty much everything on this track, really. The film's dialogue and sound effects all come through alright, but the distinctness and clarity I'm used to hearing aren't there. The sound design is really insular...doesn't fill every square inch of the room the way a lot of Blu-ray discs do. Pretty mediocre overall.
No dubs or downmixes this time around. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.
The Final Word
There are a few decent ideas bobbing around in here: Just Another Day just isn't really sure what to do with them. I'm not going to pretend that I hated it or whatever, but this still feels like a really scattershot TV movie. A more polished script and a much more seasoned director could've turned this into something else. Just Another Day is okay and all, but why settle for that? If you've still gotta see it, I'd say Rent It.