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Hustle and Heat: Director's Cut

Columbia/Tri-Star // R // March 2, 2004
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted March 7, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Movie: So-called "Black" movies tend to direct themselves at an urban audience, knowing they'll pick up a bunch of little wannabe's (White boys trying to look cool) along the way but never really seeking a big crossover since that would theoretically reduce its street credibility and open up the door to charges of "selling out". A good movie can appeal to all audiences, this has been proven time and again, but I can respect the decision to tailor a movie to a limited audience as well. Such is the case with a little release by Columbia Tristar, Hustle And Heat.

The movie is a pet project of lead actor Duane Martin, who co-wrote, starred in, and co-produced the flick. He stars as a private investigator, Rad McCrae, who assists the police on various investigations of importance. Smooth as Shaft, as talented as James Bond, Rad is a guy who gets things done by using his martial arts expertise as well as his intellect. His partner, of sorts, is Vivica A. Fox, a munitions expert that is billed as the co-star, even though her role was fairly limited (talk about Black exploitation!). Together, they seek to solve the murder of Rad's boyhood friend Benji (rapper Jadakiss) who was a rising star in the music industry. The police believe Benji committed suicide but Rad knows differently and sets out to do everything in his power to prove it for Benji's new wife, Venus (Meagan Good).

The trail of deceit and corruption Rad follows through the sorted world of href=>Hip Hop, reminded me a bit of the plot from href=>Who's The Man, where the criminal element off a man in order to further their own agenda. Rad confronts a record executive, B. Free (Michael Taliferro), as the primary suspect, but there are trails leading elsewhere too. Rad has to uncover the mystery or die trying in order to keep his word to young Venus, a gal he grows increasingly attracted to over time. Between the shootouts, martial art fights and web of increasingly complex relationships, Rad's chances of solving the crime decrease as he gets closer to his prey.

Okay, as the director states in his audio commentary, he is no actor. He filled in on a small role when someone else dropped out. I think lead Duane Martin could claim the same thing, it showed in every scene the man was in. He's not a terrible actor but he seemed unprepared for the role and his acting reminded me of George Lazenby's Bond character from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The characters were stereotypes and the budget was under two million dollars so don't expect a whole lot in terms of the chases or gunfights either. Where Shaft had his attitude and Bond has a certain class, Rad is nondescript (almost generic) in his methodology. I really didn't care if he found the killer or if he were killed himself when all was said and done.

The direction was about what you'd expect of a weekly television show; mechanical and on a strict timetable. The other characters were about as bland as could be and I suppose the highlight for most people will be Jaddakiss' original songs. They were great but at least they were somewhat original. The executive producer's included a lot of people, such as star Will Smith and his wife, making me think the whole project was conceived as a payoff to a friend (the original lead or Duane, I couldn't say).

The themes were the typical revenge and drugs are bad for you type of fluff that roll our eyes even today. If you're looking for a bit of fluff to make out to (i.e.: don't care if you miss the movie type stuff), this might fit the bill but Duane was far better in a smaller role in the flop href=>Deliver Us From Eva
or when he played for the New York Knicks. I'm suggesting this one as a Skip It for all the above reasons and more.

Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen color with the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For a low budget movie on a tight schedule, it looked pretty good but there was a problem with grain and some pesky video noise to contend with. The flesh tones were generally solid but the detail lacked the crispness so many of us expect from enhanced features these days. There was also some pattern noise in a few scenes but no compression artifacts.

Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English and sounded better than the budget would lead you to believe. There was some separation between the channels and most of the time, it was clear and crisp. Some of the music was a bit hollow but the vocals were well done in almost all cases.

Extras: The only real extra was an audio commentary with director Craig Ross Jr. He described the many limitations and problems that he encountered making the movie as well as some anecdotes about the production. It was more enjoyable then the movie, even when he rambled about some of his friends that were in the movie with him. There were also four trailers.

Final Thoughts: The plot and acting were the two biggest reasons why this one flopped. Originally, it was released as Ride Or Die but the producers probably changed the name so it would get a second life on DVD. It was terribly generic in how it came off, much like most television shows from the 1970's. Fans of Vivica's should keep in mind that her amount of screen time was so minimal that if you blink, you'll miss it.

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