Artisan // 2002 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 3rd, 2003
The line between East and West is drawn in blood!
Mayhem and Jaxx make up the internationally famous rap duo Kriss Kross...sorry, Phay-Did. It's your typical "you've got the brawn, I've got the brains. Let's make lots of Benjamins" scenario. Except Jaxx feels one-upped by Mayhem's larger than ODB's-criminal-record ego. Mayhem, on the other side, takes his partner less seriously than his daily ab routine. So it's not long before a Suge Knight impersonator named Domino Breed steps in and offers the offended partner a chance at his own career as a hip-hop gangsta sell out. Jaxx agrees and heads to LA. A rejected and dejected Mayhem gets even with Jaxx by dissing his old lady in a song. Jaxx gets back at Mayhem by creating a hit album. Oh, and he also has Domino pop a bottle cap in that well-muscled ass of his. Mayhem gets back at Jaxx by killing one of Domino's many protégés, someone by the name of Creeper (Jeepers!). Jaxx gets back at Mayhem by having his own ass kicked by Domino? There's a subplot involving a non-breast exposing Little Kim look-alike. Tony Braxton walks around looking half asleep. In the end, Jaxx is killed because he committed the cardinal sin for a rap artist...he asked to renegotiate his contract. Instead, he just gets Play'd.
More confusing than the lyrics to a Bone Thugz 'n' Harmony track and hardly worth the effort of deciphering, Play'd is a VH-1 original made for television movie that should be sued for falsely using the term "original" in its press and publicity materials. Unlike other, better films set within the black music business, Play'd is a reckless driver of a film, careening down a familiar roadside of entertainment industry formula, sideswiping all manner of issues and scenarios along the way. But it never gets deep enough to cause any major emotional or dramatic damage. This is one exploration of the whole East Coast/West Coast rap war that's over and inert before the first verbal volley strikes. More or less a fairytale loosely based on the lives, careers, and deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, Play'd (street lingo for being hoodwinked -- how appropriate) is vague, empty, and skirts moments of vital importance in favor of guns being brandished and excessive scenes of badly lip synced hack rap. The music in Play'd is, for want of a less jargonistic response, Hella-weak. Let's face it, if this was the beat box material the parties involved here were arguing (and dying) over, they'd all need to check their hip-hop credentials at the Mickey Mouse Club door. The pedestrian P. Diddy poop-hop is unoriginal, busy, and impossible to enjoy. If it's supposed to reflect on and address the events occurring in the movie, the malformed lyrics and Freddy Krueger horror style samples barely get that point across. But if it's supposed to sound like a collaboration between MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, and the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, well, it still sucks. A crucial aspect to any movie about the world of hip-hop is vital, engaging sound and fury. Unfortunately, Play'd sounds like it picked up its track listing in a flea market cutout bin.
The performances here are equally low rent and erratic. Poor Merlin Santana had to go and die after making this movie, leaving this last performance like a bad aftertaste in the mouth of his seemingly many fans. His overacted ham-fisted portrayal of Mayhem, the pretty boy thug poseur is all roid rage accented with over enunciated donkey braying. There is absolutely no subtlety whatsoever. All Rashaan Nall (as Jaxx) has is one note, and it's consistently flat. Even when he's flustered, Rash just looks like he's pouting. If there's ever another role in any movie that requires an actor to merely puff out his cheeks and purse his lips, Nall should be the first and only name on the casting call. Only slightly better is Faizon Love as the beefy badass Domino. Chewing on his cigar like it's an O. Henry bar and able to modulate his emoting from gregarious to grave, his is singularly the best performance in the film. Not that anyone acting next to the zombie like blankness of Toni Braxton wouldn't standout like a white guy at the Source Awards. There is plenty of blame to go around here. The most original and inventive aspect of Oz Scott's direction is his first name. Screenwriter Cory Tynan (has anything good ever come from someone named Cory?) loads the movie with so much street lingo and Ebonics falderal that the dialogue must have simply been lifted, verbatim, from the pages of the Urban Slang Dictionary. But VH-1 is the guiltiest party of all. They want to sell this as a realistic slice of hip-hop street life, and yet there is no obvious drug use and nary a curse word to be heard. While a great movie could be made about a famous musical duo hitting the skids over the apportionment of recognition within the bubble of fame, Play'd is not that movie. Not by a long shot.
Artisan's reverse marketing of DVD titles is in full swing with Play'd. Applying the "crappier the title, the better the release" theory to optimum effect, Play'd is offered in a stunning 1.85:1 original aspect ratio print that is almost flawless. There is a minimum of pixelation in the fade-outs, and only one scene of noticeable compression grain. Otherwise, the transfer is great. Also wonderful is the sonic side of the disc. In either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, the movie is a multi-channel environmental experience. Even the hideous musical score is enlivened by the aural treatment given. For extras, we get a 14-minute interview featurette, which speaks to the cast and the crew about the making of the film. While mostly a puff piece, it still offers some interesting behind the scenes information. We are also given a post-production video tribute to the late Merlin Santana, which consists of some sound bites and clips from the film. Of special interest is a side-by-side scene analysis that allows us to watch a sequence being filmed and then compare it to the edited version at the same time. And if that's not enough, there is even a Music Video Workshop that allows the viewer to randomly arrange snippets from the film into their own mini-music movie. Add to all this an essay in the enclosed chapter sheet by the director, explaining his philosophy and reasons for the film in near commentary detail, and once again Artisan has gone all out for a truly awful film. As stated before, the title is taken from street talk for being bamboozled. Anyone picking up this DVD hoping for a decent story with great acting and powerful music will sympathize. Call it lying or deceiving, but when it comes right down to it, anyone spending 87 minutes with this movie will get play'd, just like the characters in the movie.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind-the-Scenes Interviews
* Music Video Workshop
* Behind-the-Scenes Comparisons
* Merlin Santana Tribute