Image Entertainment // 2009 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 5th, 2010
Music. Money. Mayhem. Monotony.
It's a heralded Wire reunion -- or so the blazing Blu-ray cover art would declare. Two of the celebrated HBO series' actors -- Jamie Hector and Wood Harris -- turn up in this tepid look at a day in the life of two hip hop musicians. On the low end of the rap totem pole is Young Eastie (Hector). He's just cut his first demo and while skilled way beyond the normal ability to pay the bills, he's stuck struggling in a bad section of Miami. If he could just get his music to high profile icon A-Maze (Harris), he's sure he'd be the next MTV superstar. As luck would have it, a gang war breaks out between rival Haiti drug dealers, making Eastie's goal of tracking down his idol and handing him a sample CD all the more perilous. For A-Maze, things aren't much better. His career has stalled and a rival rapper named B-Bone (Petey Pablo) has "beef" with him -- beef that may turn ugly...or deadly. With violence all around and the clock ticking away, Eastie and his target are headed for a confrontation that could change both of their lives...forever!
It's only taken a couple of decades, but the entire hip-hop/rap genre is now ensconced in a set of cultural clichés that no egotistical Kanye West wannabe can truly avoid. From the moment someone opens their mouth and starts spitting rhymes, an overkill of cultural relevance and media hand wringing defines the who, what, when, where, and why of their career. We get the standard broken home/hustle and flow facets of family, the "keeping it real" reasons for the shady friends and faux criminal stance, and the various commercial cover-ups that turn talented lyricists and bright MCs into marketable menaces to the society. Granted, some in the game actually earn their rep, having their questionable past propelling them to, hopefully, rise above. On the other hand, many manipulate their image pre-hit, secure in the knowledge that such a charged representation will get the attention of the already disenfranchised adolescents that drive iTunes downloads.
All of this is a way of saying that much of Just Another Day is just another example of urban culture exploited and then left unexplained. We are supposed to catch on to the behavioral 'buzzwords' -- dicey home life, "wrong crowd" issues, the need for quick money via the streets, the ubiquitous drive toward fame and equally elusive lure of fast cash, the soul sucking savagery of such success, the equally omnipresent bull's eye on one's back -- and then settle back to watch the action unfold. Instead of applying a more personal approach (as in the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious), Just Another Day consistently bites the hand that hypes it. Sure, we get cautions left and right about dreams becoming nightmares, and no rap stereotype goes by without critical comment. But for someone who made his name in documentaries, director Peter Spirer brings none of said authenticity to this fictional features. He perhaps knows the business better than anyone (seek out his excellent Rhyme & Reason expose for proof) and yet he easily courts formula and over-familiarity to strike his dramatic chords.
Luckily, Spirer has two fine actors as his leads, both Hector and Harris adding the performance nuance and gravitas the script frequently avoids. Though it's not much of a stretch to see them as street smart survivors working their way through pain and the perilous realities of thug life, they help maintain a sense of legitimacy that other elements -- and some very amateurish supporting players -- fail to capture. The soundtrack is also solid, offering some fresh (if still familiar) beats to the already bulging hip-hop canon. One has to give this movie credit for showing how the problems of the novice are reflective -- and equally precarious -- as the dilemmas haunting the celebrated, and some of the time, Just Another Day does crackle with energy and intensity. Fans of the sonic category, and those unable to escape the oppressive push of the post-modern marketing machine, however, will feel a sense of déjà vu that works against the film's better judgments.
As far as the high definition technical specifications go, Image Entertainment gives us an interesting direct from video transfer that helps bring the hot spot feel of Miami to life. The 1080p/AVC encode does expose the processes limits, with exterior shots frequently suffering from overexposed or "blown out" skies and faces. Yet the rest of the color scheme is excellent, and there is a nice level of detail in the 1.78:1 letterboxed picture. Perhaps more importantly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix does a magnificent job of bringing the various hip-hop tracks to bass-rattling life. You get all the nuance in the music and then some. Sadly, the speaker system overall gets little workout once the tunes die down. There is a real forced stereo feel to the dialogue, with little happening off the sides and everything coming out front and center. We expect some ambient noises to bubble behind us. Unfortunately, it takes the standard rap tracks to bring the back channels to life.
As for added content, it's pure EPK territory. We get some interesting interviews as part of the movie making-of, and even more appealing insights as part of a behind the scenes on the music. But that's about it. The deleted scenes are non-essential and the trailer feels tacked on. Had Peter Spirer found a novel way of combining his true life knowledge of the genre with the needs of cinematic fiction, Just Another Day would play much, much better. As it stands, it's mildly entertaining if wholly derivative.
Guilty -- makes one long for the days of Kurtis Blow and Afrika Bambaataa.
Review content copyright © 2010 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes