New Jack City Review

Image for New Jack City

A crime lord ascends to power and becomes meglomanical while a maverick police detective vows to stop him.


A brash, unconvincing crime thriller that can claim to have launched the hip-hop styled movie, and given Wesley Snipes a chance to be outrageous. It looks hackneyed and feels overwrought in hindsight, but at the time its kinetic edits, blurring like some drug trip, and violent immediacy were groundbreaking. Van Peebles, who would drift to the sidelines of cinema when he shouldn’t have, was intent on transforming the black exploitation movie into an intense exposure of late ‘80s Harlem drug culture. But his approach was too of-the-moment and self-satisfied to be nuanced or telling, the boombox vernacular, thick with colloquial guttertalk, feels forced and showy rather than truthful.

   Snipes, however, is having a ball. His Nino is is living the black, street-crime version of the yuppie dream. He’s Don Corleone mixed with Richard Pryor, dressed in immaculate blue suits, and spouting mock philosophies on brotherhood. His foes in this hectic cops and robbers vibe, Scotty and Nick (played with that lazy snicker by Ice-T (good choice) and lonely Caucasian muddle by Judd Nelson), spar and break the rules – as we’ve got a new kind of mobster, so we have a new breed of cop, sour and naked of ideals. 

      It bounces, hyperbolic with its empty magnificence, to the thump of early hip-hop beats (another aged factor). With none of the racial politicking of Spike Lee or the social awareness of John Singleton, it can only turn into a personal vengeance story, Nino’s downfall as inevitable and preposterous as some horror-movie freakzoid. It remains seminal, but for all its energy is a vacant lot.

Violent and very engaging. Giving a real feel of the fear and squalor of New Yorks poorest districts before Mayor Giuliani cracked down on their asses.