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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Retro Review: New Jersey Drive (1995)

New Jersey Drive
Cast: Sharron Corley, Gabriel Casseus, Donald Faison, Heavy D, Roscoe Orman, Christine Baranski
Genre: Crime Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $3.5 million

Plot: An impoverished New Jersey youth & his pal get their thrills by stealing cars and taking them for joyrides. Soon, he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, & makes a dangerous enemy in his neighbourhood 

'Hood-Based Crime Drama Lacking In Focus, But Still Gets By Through Strong Turns'

New Jersey Drive is a lower-tier indie movie that came out in 1995 and was relatively unknown, but it is also a film where it poses the question of whether or not citizens and the very people who are supposed to protect the city & community can co-exist alongside each other. & yet still, somehow & oddly it chooses to dodge this question & never providing the answers. Together with unsympathetic main characters, New Jersey Drive weaves through so many directions, but never finding one route in its angle and sticking with it throughout its entirety.

With a little help from Spike Lee, the drama focuses on a group of Black youths in Newark, New Jersey who resort to stealing cars and carjacking and their attempts at evading the law. Problems then mount when they steal a police car, with the officers launching an offensive that results in several deaths and police brutality. 

We have the black youths versus the police, versus other youths & versus their families. As well as this middling mix, the story and its characters fail to convince, lacking presence and empathy, depth and characterisation. Qualities that persist in Set It Off and Dead Presidents: fellow African- American Black movies, which for me go to far greater lengths than New Jersey Drive & ones that are similar in tone.

It's a movie with an agenda that it wants to say, loud and clear - unfortunately, whatever that was just didn't transcend & come through. There were a few times where I also felt that perhaps it was going somewhere and eventually finding its feet. But come towards the end, It was too late. Additionally, the 'B' & 'N' words are frequently uttered.

The performances were great though, which also includes appearances by Donald Faison, who later starred in the ABC show, Scrubs and Christine Baranski of The Birdcage and Bowfinger and it's a huge shame the film wasn't able to back them up. It looks great too, cinematography -wise but beneath the style and aesthetics, there was frankly little substance with characters with nothing to say about themselves. The main character, Jason never develops and by the end, I didn't care enough for him.

The film doesn't offer anything else or more, but mostly it's just to exhibit a bunch of youths cursing, stealing and joyriding cars with the police in pursuit of them. Although it does show both the youths and police being reckless and at fault, and so one thing I liked was it wasn't so completely one-sided. That, and it felt very realistic, genuine and raw, which was good to see. Yet had New Jersey Drive found a focus, stuck with it and elaborated on it more, then it would be far more coherent.

Final Verdict:

It's not a must-see in terms of Black and African American films; that & Dead Presidents & Set It Off are far superior when it comes to similar offerings of this type. But this one was okay, & by putting aside the negative depictions of the characters, therein still lies a little gem in African-American film that is not half bad.


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