Image Entertainment // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 14th, 2010
Robbin' For The Hood
The Stick Up Kids is what happens when you throw Robin Hood into a black power-charged, Harlem-set story of the rich versus the poor. The film starts with a solid premise: four friends (the Stick Up Kids of the title) rob in downtown New York City only to bring the money to help their poor Harlem neighborhood. They even have a ready made villain in the form of the local slumlord, who is trying to buy up all the local property to turn Harlem into "North Manhattan." When the Kids' Uncle Bo doesn't want to move, the slumlord has him snuffed and the Kids have to change their focus from getting rich to getting even.
That sounds like a pretty good movie to me, and that's the movie that the trailer promises. The problem is that this plot really only accounts for about half the running time of the film. Stick Up Kids starts out well enough, and the first half hour or so shows the four Kids doing their thing by robbing from rich white folks and discussing how to provide for their Uncle Bo. Then the nasty slumlord comes to them with a warehouse job that the crew accepts, only it goes wrong and one of them lands in jail. This causes the whole movie to jump the tracks, and suddenly we're treated to several extended diatribes by Uncle Bo about how the black man owned Manhattan before the Indians sold it to the white man. This explains why Uncle Bo is so set on keeping his little house in Harlem when the Kids offer to set him up somewhere on Long Island or upstate. After some sufficiently "mystical" camera moves, Uncle Bo gets snuffed. Then the film becomes a domestic drama as everyone deals with the death of Uncle Bo. Only in the last half hour or so do the Kids come together to give the slumlord what-for, bringing the movie to a semi-satisfying close.
There is a pretty good 80-minute movie hiding somewhere in The Stick Up Kids, but at two hours there's very little to justify a viewing, especially with its small budget. While the low-rent effects and editing tricks, would be pretty easy to take in a shorter film, with a full two hours to soak up every cheap set and bad line of dialogue there's very little the film can do to dig itself out of the whole it creates once Uncle Bo takes center stage.
The acting is almost as rough as the screenplay. Some performers give excellent, believable performances while others sounds like they're reading off of cue cards in a high school production. Some of the fault obviously lies with the actors, but in other cases the characters are so thinly written that it's no wonder they sound bad. The slumlord Levine is a perfect example. Robert Miano does everything he can with the character, making him menacing and smarmy enough, but at the end of the day he's a one-note Trump wannabe with gangster pretentions that Olivier couldn't rescue.
Image only sent a screener here to Verdict, so I can't really comment on the final product. What I can say is that this incarnation of the film looks and sounds fine. It appears to have been shot on digital video and despite the often-dark sets and limitations of budget usually looks solid. Audio was likewise up to snuff, with easily audible dialogue and appropriately timed hip-hop on the soundtrack. I have no indication of what extras might be included with the production DVD, but I hope to hear at least a little bit from the director and screenwriter, if only to hear what they were thinking with the film's sudden changes in focus and pace.
The Stick Up Kids is the kind of messed-up film that leaves you feeling a little sad after watching it. I wasn't sad that I spent two hours on an unsatisfying film, but sad because there was so much potential in this one that I wanted to see it succeed. Perhaps some viewers will be more tolerant and accept the film's changes. To them I say good luck, but to everyone else it's best to avoid Stick Up Kids.
Guilty of robbin' the hood without purpose.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R