It’s got some talented actors and a certain jagged inner-city atmosphere, yet this first feature directed by Mario Van Peebles (son of the veteran black director Melvin Van Peebles) is little more than a sketchy exploitation melodrama. The story centers on Nino Brown (played by the suave and witty Wesley Snipes), a psychopathically violent drug lord who takes over a huge, one-square-block apartment building in the middle of Harlem and single-handedly initiates the New York crack epidemic. Strutting around in brightly colored suits and a gold pirate earring, Snipes gives Nino a lurid magnetism. Yet the movie is raucous and rather static. Though Van Peebles obviously thinks he’s making an antidrug shoot’em-up, most of New Jack City plays at the level of vengeful comedy — the sort of thing in which women are slapped around and people are shot in the face and the audience is meant to laugh it off. It doesn’t help that the cops chasing Nino are a very dull crew. They’re led by Van Peebles himself, an outrageously handsome young actor-he looks like a cross between Marvin Gaye and the young Michael Landon — who, in this role at least, is way too square. Also on hand are rapper Ice-T as his deadpan assistant, Chris Rock (who gives the best performance in the film) as a boyish crack addict who goes undercover for the police, and Judd Nelson as token white cop Nick Peretti, who seems to have wandered in from a rerun of Starsky and Hutch.

New Jack City
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