Ernest R. Dickerson's Juice is notable for its debut screen appearance of rapper Tupac Shakur, who joins Omar Epps, Khalil Kain and Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins as an inner-city teen who succumbs to a violent lifestyle. The title refers to the power one gets after violently earning respect in Harlem, and the film follows its four protagonists in their daily routines. We see each tempted by drugs, gangs and power struggles, and the childhood friends grow apart as each chooses his own path in life. Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary, Juice features cameos by Queen Latifah, EPMD, Doctor Dre and Treach, among others, and benefits from a strong soundtrack. The character development and drama is not as focused as it might have been, but Juice is still an entertaining film with lasting impact.
We see quickly that the four young men at the heart of Juice are a handful. Raheem (Kain) and Bishop (Shakur) lead Q (Epps) and Steel (Hopkins) in truancy, goofing off and messing with other Harlem youths. They are not yet criminals, but that quickly changes when Bishop decides the group should rob a local convenience store. The followers do follow, and Bishop ends up murdering the store's unarmed clerk. That causes an immediate rift in the group, and quickly results in more violence. Bishop then loses his already tenuous grip on reality as the other boys try to continue their lives in the wake of the crime. What begins as a Harlem Stand by Me of sorts then becomes a thriller about the perils of influence.
Dickerson is Spike Lee's longtime cinematographer, and Lee's influence is apparent here in the culture, scenery and vibrant locals in Harlem. These are not especially deep characterizations of the four leads, but they work in context. Q has promising talent as a DJ, and a local talent scout (Latifah) gives him a prominent spot in a DJ battle. We catch glimpses of the boys' home lives, with their varying degrees of difficulties, including Bishop's inadequate father and Raheem's female troubles. Bishop goes over the deep end quickly, and his utter downfall seems to suggest that his psyche - not Harlem - is responsible for the change.
The performances are mostly nuanced and believable, particularly those of Epps and Kain. The cinematography by Larry Banks is also impressive, as is the Gary G-Wiz soundtrack. Shakur shows early raw talent, though his performance here became a lot less surprising when darker details of the rapper's character surfaced in the years following the film's release. At 25, Juice is still entertaining and relevant, if not as powerful as Lee's Do the Right Thing. Fans should appreciate Juice's expanded anniversary-edition Blu-ray, with additional bonus features and solid tech specs.
The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is solid, and presents the film-shot production without major flaws. Sharpness and detail are good, and the transfer is pleasingly free of edge halos and print damage. Skin tones are accurate, colors are nicely saturated, and black levels are good. There is some minor black crush and a few softer shots, but the entire presentation retains a film-like quality and natural grain structure.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is decent, but does not make full use of the surrounds. The center-channel-heavy mix features clear dialogue and some light ambient effects. The popular-music soundtrack is clear but occasionally feels crowded to the front of the mix. This is likely a source issue and not a fault of the Blu-ray. A Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is included, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subs.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in an eco-case that is wrapped in a matching slipcover. Extras include an Audio Commentary by Director Ernest R. Dickerson; You've Got the Juice Now (19:12/HD), a retrospective with remarks from Dickerson, producer David Heyman, Epps and others; The Wrecking Crew (23:44/HD), about the characters and cast; Sip the Juice: The Music (12:51/HD), with new and recycled interviews; Stay in the Scene: The Interview (22:43/HD), a 1992 interview with the four leads; and a Photo Gallery.
Now 25 years old, Ernest R. Dickerson's Juice remains entertaining and relevant, even if the characters and drama are familiar. Notable for hosting rapper Tupac Shakur's acting debut, Juice follows four young men growing up in Harlem as they are tempted by violence and power. This new anniversary edition Blu-ray offers good technical specs and a number of bonus features. Highly Recommended.