The Films of Ernest R. Dickerson
Surviving the Game
Demon Knight (December 5/16)
The least horrible of the three modern Tales from the Crypt films, Demon Knight follows William Sadler's mysterious Brayker as he seeks refuge from a vicious demon (Billy Zane) within the confines of a small-town hotel - with the movie detailing the battle that predictably ensues between the pair and the impact the carnage has on the various locals caught in the middle. It's ultimately clear that Demon Knight's biggest problem is an inability to comfortably, organically fill its feature-length running time (ie this likely would've been far more effective as a half hour television episode), as the movie, which starts off relatively well, suffers from a padded-out midsection that's rife with needless interludes. (There are, for example, far more dream sequences than are even remotely necessary.) The decidedly unfocused nature of Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop's screenplay paves the way for a narrative that veers wildly between kind of watchable and hopelessly tiresome, with the ensuing lack of momentum making it almost impossible to work up any real interest in Sadler's character's ongoing exploits. (This is to say nothing of the scarcely-developed supporting cast, as folks like Thomas Haden Church, CCH Pounder, and Dick Miller are trapped in the confines of one-dimensional victim-type figures.) And although Zane delivers a gleefully over-the-top performance that remains a rare bright spot, Demon Knight, which builds to an action-heavy yet rather interminable climax, is simply unable to wholeheartedly justify its existence as a big-screen endeavor.
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, Bulletproof details the fallout that ensues after lowlife criminal Archie Moses (Adam Sandler) discovers that his best friend (Damon Wayans' Rock Keats) is actually an undercover police officer - with the film subsequently following Rock as he attempts to keep Archie safe from central villain Frank Colton's (James Caan) various goons. There's little doubt that Bulletproof fares best in its opening half hour, as the strong chemistry between Sandler and Wayans' respective characters effectively lays the groundwork for what initially appears to be a conventional yet entertaining buddy film. It's only as Archie learns of Rock's true identity that the movie morphs into an increasingly tedious piece of work, with the characters' relentless bickering merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the film's various problems - as scripters Joe Gayton and Lewis Colick have flooded the midsection with one questionable sequence after another (eg Archie and Rock's encounter with an unreasonably quirky motel owner.) And although the movie does recover for an admittedly exciting climactic shootout, Bulletproof is, for the most part, a forgettable actioner that consistently wastes the talents of its two stars.
Bones (September 2/02)
I wasn't expecting a masterpiece from Bones, but with Ernest Dickerson behind the camera, I certainly wasn't expecting such a dull horror flick. Snoop Dogg stars as Jimmy Bones, a man murdered in the '70s whose spirit has been living in the house where he died ever since. Five teenagers (obviously) decide to renovate the house and turn it into a "slammin'" club, while the various residents of the town who were around when Bones died try to convince them to leave the house alone. But they unwittingly resurrect Bones, who alternates between terrorizing the kids and exacting revenge on those responsible for his death. It takes a full hour before anything interesting happens (believe me, I checked), with the first half of the movie devoted to the group's attempt in restoring the house and Pam Grier (playing Bones' old girlfriend) running around warning people of the evil they're awakening. Finally, Bones comes back to life, but it's completely impossible to care by that point. And Dickerson mistakes flashiness for style, and overloads the film with jump-cuts and dizzying camera pyrotechnics. But as the title character, Snoop Dogg is pretty effective and even manages to win the viewer's sympathy at one point (which all the more impressive given how non-likeable Dogg generally tends to be).
Monday Night Mayhem
Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie (March 11/10)
Based on a true story, Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie follows Arizona State student Benny Silman (David Krumholtz) as he starts earning thousands of dollars a week by working as a bookie's assistant - with trouble ensuing as Benny, who has long-since gone into business for himself, becomes embroiled in a progressively high-profile point-shaving scheme. The almost excessive familiarity of the movie's storyline is initially not as problematic as one might've expected, with Ernest R. Dickerson's dynamic directorial choices and Krumholtz's personable work proving effective at capturing the viewer's interest at the outset - even if, in terms of the latter, Krumholtz does occasionally go just a little overboard with the New Yorker stuff (ie the accent, the swagger, etc). It's also worth noting that Benny's budding relationship with a fellow student (Jennifer Morrison's Callie) provides the film with appreciated breaks from the gambling-centric narrative, although even this facet of the proceedings ultimately resorts to hoary cliches and hackneyed developments (ie their expected breakup is triggered by his almost instantaneous transformation into a sleazebag). Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie's watchable yet far-from-enthralling atmosphere persists right up until the movie enters its egregiously conventional third act, with the predictable trajectory of Benny's storyline virtually negating the strength of everything that precedes it (and this is to say nothing of the film's bizarre, after-school-special-like coda, in which the real Benny Silman laments his illicit activities directly into the camera).
Never Die Alone (March 25/04)
About halfway through Never Die Alone, it becomes perfectly clear what director Ernest R. Dickerson is doing here: he's re-inventing the blacksploitation genre for the 21st century. With its themes of revenge and honor, and healthy doses of sex and violence, the story is certainly a throwback to the films of the '70s. Based on the book by Donald Goines, Never Die Alone opens with King David's (DMX) death and the majority of the film occurs in flashback - with David narrating his own tale. David Arquette plays a down-on-his-luck writer who receives tapes of King David's autobiography after he tries to save his life. The gritty and almost overly-stylistic approach that Dickerson takes to the material takes a good half hour to get used to; along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Dickerson spends a lot of time experimenting with the film's look. It works, though, as the movie's style matches the dark tone of James Gibson's script. DMX still isn't much of an actor, but the role primarily requires him to exude menace - something the rapper has no problem with. Arquette gives a surprisingly non-goofy performance, while Barbershop's Michael Ealy is fine as the film's hero. There's even a twist towards the end that's genuinely unexpected, turning Never Die Alone into an above-average urban thriller.
For One Night
Last Man Standing