Case Number 02166: Small Claims Court


New Line // 2001 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // September 10th, 2002

The Charge

No man can resist her.

The Case

Hill, a rookie cop, witnesses fellow police officer Miller plant drugs on a suspect. Corrupt Miller warns Hill to keep quiet, or pay the price. At a bar, Hill runs into Carmen, a beautiful young temptress. After a scuffle, Hill is charged with taking Carmen to jail. She seduces him. The next morning, Carmen escapes and Hill is jailed for aiding and abetting. While hanging out with her friends, she meets Blaze, a rap star who is immediately infatuated. He invites Carmen and her pals to Los Angeles. Carmen dreams of being a famous actress, but because of her newfound love for Hill, she stays behind. Once free, Hill's probation keeps them from going to LA. But after he attacks and punches Miller, they hit the road. In California, Carmen's talent fails to impress and Hill's checkered past thwarts his opportunities. Carmen visits a fortuneteller who tells her she is doomed. Carmen, feeling her time for fame running out, dumps Hill and takes up with Blaze. Miller discovers where Hill is hiding and heads out to silence him, permanently. During a promotional interview for a concert, Hill sees Carmen with Blaze, and decides to confront her. On the night of the big show, prophecy and passion converge, with tragic results.

MTV's Carmen: A Hip Hopera is a fresh, inventive reworking of Biset's classic story, mirroring all the major plot details and cleverly contemporizing them within an urban hip-hop setting. The pat story would have benefited from an extra 30 minutes or so to completely flesh out the characters and fill in back story. Still, hats off to director Robert Townsend and the rest of the production crew for creating an innovative and entertaining remake. Performance wise, Mos Def and Mekhi Phifer are excellent. Def brings a rapper's bravado and swagger to his role of crocked cop Miller, making the character that much more realistic, and dangerous. Phifer shows a surprisingly skillful rap style, and creates a believably enchanted/manipulated hero. Only Beyonce Knowles fails to fully impress. Even with all her superstar diva qualities, she's too lightweight, too soft to portray a scheming seductress. Unless based in ravishing beauty, it is difficult to accept that men would do anything for her except show her the door. She is acceptable, not convincing. However, the true standout here is the virtuoso musical numbers. Deftly constructed out of classical and funk features with rock blocking beats, the lyrics do a magnificent job of mixing motive with motion, excitement with exposition. Switching on the optional English subtitles will clarify just how brilliant some of the wordplay really is.

And this underlines the biggest offense the disc commits. Never once is any recognition of substance given to the songwriters or musicians responsible for the difficult task of translating operatic themes into street poetry. If you based your decision on the information present here (including the miniscule closing credits) you would swear that the actors were simply making the rhymes up as they went along. The composers remain a mystery and since music is a vital (and frankly, the best) part of this film, it would have been nice to show them some respect. But this is just par for the course with New Line's overall sparse, simplistic DVD presentation. There is a choice of widescreen or full screen transfers. Both are gorgeous in their detailed digital pictures, with full screen actually enhancing some elements that the widescreen weakens. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is exceptional. It makes the most of the big bass throb, while keeping important dialogue and rap sequences at the forefront. The only extra is a pure puff piece of press pandering called MTV's Making the Movie. It's far too vague to be important. Still, slights aside, Carmen: A Hip Hopera is an entertaining enterprise that makes sweet, compelling music out of a clash of conflicting cultures.

Review content copyright © 2002 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* MTV Special: Making the Movie -- Carmen: A Hip Hopera
* Scene and Song Access

* IMDb