Synapse // 2002 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Aaron Bossig (Retired) // November 12th, 2004
"From the creator of The Jerky Boys!"
I really wish marketing goons would stop saying that. This movie couldn't have less to do with The Jerky Boys.
Done in the style of a philosophical dialogue, God Has a Rap Sheet is an interesting little movie. In a New York City jail cell, a group of men arrested for various offenses spends the night just trying to tolerate each other. At the center of the group is an older prisoner who claims to be God. He isn't a burning bush or a mighty king, but a senile old man who's missing a few teeth and appears to have soiled himself.
As characters, the cellmates aren't extremely deep, but this is one instance where that is a good thing. The people in the story aren't supposed to be unique individuals; they exist to be ethnic representatives. Each character is the sum of a race, sect, or creed condensed into one man. Each is given the most extreme and intolerant view possible (except the British guy, who seems somewhat reasonable), and then set loose onto someone who hates him just as much as he hates them.
In order to give the characters a personal touch, each is granted a short flashback. The scenes are done well and appropriate for the movie's tone. Except one that sticks out like a sore thumb: the back story for God himself. We get a few nuggets of explanation as to how God came to be in a prison cell, both supernatural and worldly. In either case, the explanations raise more questions than they answer. This movie deals with eternal problems like "Why do good things happen to bad people?," "If God loves us, why is the world He made for us so brutal?," and "Can people with conflicting cultures ever truly co-exist?" With all that going on, why add more questions...especially questions no one is asking?
Granted, it's a minor criticism. After all, how does one write for God? There aren't any strict rules on the matter, but God Has a Rap Sheet exists to explain and reflect upon humanity. Trying to explain the divine doesn't seem to help.
God or not, the man does a fine job of bringing everyone's tensions right to the surface. The cellmates are paired up so that no one likes anyone, and each has a polar opposite to squabble with. The Muslim sneers at the Jew. The black thug irritates the white supremacist. Their arguments extract the bare truth about prejudice, written to show a group at its worst. Yet in each case, a bit of truth shines through. After all of these centuries, no one is totally innocent.
The extras provided by the DVD edition are a nice addition. Director Kamal Ahmed provides a commentary for the film, and provides nice insights on why he made certain decisions. He doesn't have much experience, but I respect his conviction as a director. Also offered is the trailer and a brief "Making-of" feature, which is much less detailed than the commentary. Mostly, it seems to be a Nextel commercial without the punch line. A sampling of the movie's soundtrack is included, divided into tracks, which is a very nice use of DVD technology. More movies should try something like this -- especially independent films, which have such offbeat soundtracks.
When a movie has an idea as ambitious as this, it's frustrating to the viewer when the filmmakers don't completely follow through. The God character in particular isn't used much until the second half of the movie. Even then, his lines are limited to brief nuggets of wisdom rather than complex monologues. Though I appreciate the "less is more" approach, we're dealing with God, not Socrates. He should have answers, and lots of them. In the film, the cellmates fight and squabble with God acting as a referee. I'd have preferred to see more sermons or revelations. If you or I were locked in a room with the Almighty, I don't think we'd be content to let Him just sit and watch.
In terms of presentation, the DVD is underwhelming. While the video quality isn't too bad -- anamorphically enhanced -- the audio quality is noticeably uneven. The prison cell creates a nasty echo in the dialogue, the effect of which ranges from being mildly annoying to downright distracting. This is a clearly a product of the source material and the limited resources of an independent movie, but the cost to the viewer is high nonetheless.
We could sit here all day and argue over which particular parts didn't work, but it's not necessary. God Has a Rap Sheet is a smart and well-written movie, full of sharp dialogue and great acting. If you're looking for an equal-opportunity indictment of the whole human race, look no further.
The defendant has shown valor by writing dense themes and directing a movie under the worst of circumstances. This excuses his trivial offenses. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2004 Aaron Bossig; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Liner Notes
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Soundtrack Selections
* "Making of" Featurette
* Promotional Trailer
* Official Site