Taking a page from the undercover-cop drama as morality play (most recently explored in ”Donnie Brasco”), In Too Deep stars Omar Epps (”The Mod Squad”) as Jeff Cole, a Cincinnati detective who goes undercover to topple a drug kingpin unassumingly named God (LL Cool J). Cole is confident bordering on cocky and — you guessed it — plays by his own rules. As he works his way up the organizational ladder, Cole (masquerading as an Ohio badass named J. Reid) succeeds beyond even his own expectations, earning a place as God’s right-hand man.
But, as proficient as Epps is, it’s LL Cool J who supplies ”Deep”’s flavor. As God, he fashions a benevolent despot who treats the local have-nots to Thanksgiving dinner and helps struggling tenement dwellers to pay their rent — asking only that he be able to use said apartments to conduct the occasional coke deal. What a guy.
In fact, he’s a sadistic brute who punishes one disloyal crew member by hog-tying him atop a pool table and, cue stick in hand… well, let’s just say, all the chalk in the world isn’t going to make this particular shot any more comfortable.
That’s as ”hard” as things get, thanks to a refreshingly measured script by Michael Henry Brown (”Dead Presidents”) and Paul Aaron. Unfortunately, it goes into free-fall during the film’s gunshot-riddled climax, as the heretofore straight-arrow Cole, having apparently found the allure of the gangster life irresistible, all too inscrutably switches allegiances and tries to protect his villainous prey.
The bust finally made (thanks to Cole’s more resolute colleagues), God still can’t believe that Reid is a cop. ”Deep” seems to be saying, You can take the cop out of the hood, but…