Fox // 2010 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 27th, 2011
Passion has a dark side.
In the summer of 2011, NPR published a story on the moviegoing habits of African-Americans. According to polls, African-Americans go to the movies more than the average viewer, and are more likely to come back to see the same feature multiple times. Despite the fact that African-Americans are more likely to spend money at the cinema, as a demographic they're terribly underserved. Sure Tyler Perry puts viewers (both black and white) in seats, but films aimed squarely at the African-American market are rare (especially when compared to other media, like music). A film like N-Secure throws this whole situation into sharp relief. It's a film that's aimed directly at African-Americans, with an almost-exclusively African-American cast, and it even has the added benefit of avoiding many of the cinematic stereotypes of African-Americans (it's not, for instance, about the 'hood). However, it's also a total waste of the viewer's time, offering shrieking, one-note characters, a trite plot, and an unsatisfying resolution.
David Alan Washington (Cordell Moore, Why Did I Get Married?) is a successful businessman with a fiancé, Robin (Essence Atkins, How High). The only problem is he's an anal-retentive jerk who has to be in control of everything. If his fiancé is three minutes late, then he spends at least three minutes haranguing her for her "disrespect." As the film opens they've been betrothed for over a year, but she won't commit. When she does, a quick fling with the man of one of her friends ends her relationship with David. Robin, however, is pregnant, but David doesn't want to admit it's his or support Robin in any way. In fact, he's moved on to a new woman, and things seem to be going well until his controlling tendencies start to crop up again.
There's a moment in his commentary to Redbelt where David Mamet says that when a lazy writer needs to show how tough a character is, he'll have an old Army buddy appear and start a conversation with something like "Remember that time when we were in the Rangers..." Well, that exact scene appears in N-Secure. Except, of course, that David was a Marine, and his conversation with an old gunnery sergeant doesn't show how tough he is as much as it gives him a platform for expository dialogue. We find out in those few minutes about David's relatively privileged upbringing, how his dad was hard on him, and how he went to a military boarding school, and blah, blah, blah.
The basic problem with N-Secure is that David is a huge jerk. In addition to being controlling, he's emotionally manipulative and abusive -- and yet he's the center of the film. I would say seventy-five percent of the film's 115 minutes feature David acting like an ass to those around him. He doesn't really change, or grow, or anything like that. Instead, we watch him be a jerk for almost two hours. Sure, he gets what's coming to him in the end, but it feels like a tacked-on solution to a plot problem rather than the inevitable consequence of his actions.
David's comeuppance also highlights the film's other major problem, one of tone. If it were a comedy, all about showing up a guy who's gotten too big for his britches, I would be okay with that. If, on the other hand, N-Secure was a dark domestic drama where we tensely watch David unravel in front of Robin and her pregnancy, that would be cool, too. Instead, N-Secure doesn't go in either direction. It's too dark to be really funny (and gives too much sympathetic screen time to David), but lacks any of the tension we expect from films about abusive men and the women who leave them.
N-Secure is a solid Blu-ray at least. The AVC-encoded transfer looks like a bright, contemporary film. Blacks are consistent, detail generally solid, and colors well saturated. It won't push a system, but the look of the film is better than I expected. Similarly, the DTS-HD track is somewhat wasted on this dialogue-heavy film, but everything is clear and well-balanced so there's little to complain about. The film's lone extra is "Inside N-Secure," which is an excerpt from The Steve Harvey Morning Show featuring some of the actors talking about their characters. There's a bit of behind-the-scenes footage, but this is a light featurette.
Aside from a pretty strong video transfer, I can't think of anything to recommend N-Secure. What's left is an obnoxious character study of a guy who's too good at his job to have people stand up to him, so he imagines he can get away with bullying people in his personal life, too. I guess the film gets points for showing a segment of the African-American population not seen in mainstream cinema. Fans of the actors might also enjoy seeing favorites like Tempestt Bledsoe (late of The Cosby Show). However, a rental is the strongest recommendation I can make, and only for committed fans or the truly boring.
Guilty of wasting time on poor characters.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R