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Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE SYSTEM WITHIN -- movie review by porfle

If I didn't know better, I almost would've thought THE SYSTEM WITHIN (2006) was a blaxploitation flick from the '70s, with its cheesy photography and direction, wildly disparate acting styles and skills, and urban crime-drama setting.  That is, until it failed to be as exciting, interesting, or as much fun as one of those movies.  SUPER FLY this ain't. 

Tony "Wise" Good was on the downward slide into inner city crime as a youngster, till his grandmother sent him away to live with his mom and step-dad.  Years later, after hitting the big time as an international supermodel, the grown-up Tony (co-writer and producer Tariq Alexander) returns to the hood and finds himself getting caught up once again with his old crime mentor Hays (Hawthorne "Big Red" James, the library guard from SE7EN) and a corrupt fashion executive named Richard Lord (Robert Miano, DONNIE BRASCO) who uses prison labor to make his hot "hip-hop" clothing line.  When Tony refuses to sign a contract with him, Lord hires Hays to frame Tony and he ends up in prison, making the clothes for thirty-five cents an hour instead of modeling them for millions.

The film opens with neighborhood crime honcho Hays and his goons invading the offices of Lord's business competitor and blasting away (watch for the "dead" guy who blinks his eyes).  This raises expectations for a hard-hitting, bullet-riddled action yarn that are rarely met later on.  It also makes us aware of the curious fact that, for some reason, they don't use any blank rounds for their guns in this movie--the actors just point them and then do that "pretend recoil" thing.  In one scene there isn't even a sound effect added, which is confusing when an actor starts spitting blood for no apparent reason, and in another, I could swear Hawthorne James mouths the "pah-KEW!" sound while he's pretending to shoot. 

All the ingredients for an old-school blaxploitation thriller are here--the good guy who wants to make it outta tha hood, the black crime boss who rules it with fear and violence, the evil white businessman who profits from it all, some gratuitous sex, a decent soundtrack, guns, drugs, babes, etc.  But it's all too half-hearted and underdeveloped to ever reach that level of entertainment, and in its final moments after the fade-out, tries to become a solemn public service message about racial injustice in our prison system, which it hasn't really earned the right to be during its running time. 

The performances range from good to, well, not-so-good, but most of the cast members (many of whom are billed as "audition winner stars") give it their all.  Hawthorne James as the evil Hays, in particular, gives it about ten times too much.  He over-emotes so grandiosely here that I often felt like I was watching a Japanese monster movie when he was on one of his acting rampages.  A couple of times there, I was afraid he was actually going to crash through my TV screen and get me.  But a movie like THE SYSTEM WITHIN needs something to keep viewers interested, and I guess a maniacally-overacting Hawthorne James biting huge chunks out of the scenery and swallowing them whole is about as much fun to watch as anything.

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