A young street hustlers tries, and fails, to escape his life in the ghetto.
Following True Romance and Bad Lieutenant, this is the third in what is fast becoming a regular series of movies back from the dead — films which were not granted a video certificate because they topped some ambiguous violence quota, but were then given one once the furore died down. In many ways Menace is the most unfair recipient of such treatment since the Hughes brothers are here slamming home a candidly anti-violence message, depicting the daily trigger-happy run-ins of South Central L.A. in all their senseless, shocking desperation. Tumbling late into the ghetto genre, this supreme example of the type is a cut above the rest care of its visceral pseudo-documentary style and passion for its subject. The central character is Caine (Turner), young, unsure of where his head lies, caught between the need to make a better life for himself and remaining loyal to the often lethal street life of, as the script puts it, “America’s nightmare: young, black and doesn’t give a fuck”. With sharp in-yer-face episodes of this bang-bang philosophy — in a jaw-dropping opening sequence Caine and his psychotic buddy Dog (Tate) are caught on a security camera blasting a shopkeeper foolish enough to complain — the film studies the tragic way in which the patterns of violence are mirrored from generation to generation. Here black children are taught to hold a gun before they can ride a bike. So realistic and focused is the Hughes’ direction that it is not inconceivable that their camera has merely shifted downtown to sample the daily toil. The acting is like a whiplash, hard and gritty, yet, especially with Turner’s floundering Caine, touching upon a fierce emotional core while the soundtrack blares out the requisite raps to the stomach-pounding beat of gunfire. Granted, the expletive-spilling dialogue is often utterly incomprehensible and the episodic structure makes the film feel uneven, but the Hughes pack more punch into their raw 97 minutes than a catalogue of Spike Lee or John Singleton movies.
Lewd and violent, but undeniably affecting