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Case Number 06730: Small Claims Court

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Decisions (2004)

Koch Vision // 2004 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 5th, 2005

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All Rise...

While it may not make you say "Ungggggghh!" Judge Bill Gibron says this Master P vanity project is actually pretty good.

Editor's Note

Our review of Decisions (2011), published June 22nd, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

Don't make me act a fool…

The Case

Petey and his brother Jamal live in the heart of South Central Los Angeles. Their neighborhood is infested with drugs and casual crime. Living with their mother, Miss Peaches, and her brother, Uncle Ray Ray, everyday is a struggle to stay out of trouble. This is especially important to Petey as he is just finishing up a two-year stint on house arrest. But with his probation officer hounding him, his girlfriend dissing him, and his dope pusher buddy pressuring him, it looks like Petey may once again stray into his former, felonious life.

Petey wants to protect Jamal, a determined young man who wants a future outside the hood. When trouble comes way too close to home, Petey decides to get even with those who've wronged his flesh and blood. But such actions may cost him his freedom, and contradict everything he has taught his sober sibling. Petey believes that it's Decisions, not circumstances, that cause people to fail. Will he prove that to Jamal, or practice what he himself preaches?

Decisions is a deceptive little film. It's not your typical hood rat redundancy. While it does feature archetypal facets that seem formulaic, the straight ahead storytelling and concentration on ghetto authenticity somehow manages to override the routine. What separates this simple piece of homemade cinema from the rest of its camcorder brethren is a desire on the part of co-writer/co-director Master P to instill a semi-positive message on top of all the posing. Certainly, other films about the drug and crime experience of disadvantaged African Americans have tried their hand at moralizing, but Decisions doesn't follow their flaws. It doesn't delight in vice, or celebrate lawlessness as a necessary extension of being underprivileged. Instead, Master P is preaching self-actualization, the need to wake up and realize that most of the problems that befall you—be they poverty or the penitentiary—come from your own bad judgment.

At only 50 minutes, Decisions barely scratches the surface of its circumstance. Part of the movie's manageability is the fact that it completely understands when to cut and run, narratively speaking. Never letting one single sequence overwhelm the others, P and his co-director Tim Alexander use a varied, vignette style to keep the plot moving and the characters from becoming complete clichés. Certainly, Uncle Ray Ray and his pal Wee Wee (or it may be Ree Ree, it's hard to tell) are blatant comic relief, speaking in a rapid fire staccato jive meant to showcase just how crazy they really are. And the sole Caucasian presence, a nasty bit of probation officer business named Jimmy, does come off as an obvious villain. But everyone else here brings a freshness and a frankness to their performance that allows us to get lost in the possible fates of these characters. By the end, you actually start rooting for common sense to win out over criminality.

Master P doesn't want to offer easy answers, and Decisions (which was originally released as part of a double CD/DVD set entitled Good Side, Bad Side) doesn't provide any. Lil' Romeo, who has aged into a fine young man, remains the moral center of the film, proving that a path on the right side of the law may actually lead to a future. But the rest of the cast—from P's Petey to Vercy Miller as the oddly named Home Alone—argue different sides of the same felon's creed. Petey only wants to do what's right, including seeking revenge on those who threaten or disrespect him. He wants better, but knows the most he can rely on is street smarts and skills. Home Alone only sees the rush in being reprobate. He sees the bling and the blaze, never once knowing that his antisocial actions will lead to his downfall. While all this may seem like high praise for a non-budget vanity project, Decisions somehow fits the bill. It seems and feels real, therefore catching us in the act of being human, even to people who may not appreciate or usually engage our concern.

Loaded with old school—read mid-'90s—rap and hip-hop beats, and filmed on digital cameras for that "caught on tape" vibe, Decisions is an enjoyable experiment. It is by no means a great film, or even a completely competent one. The acting is too amateurish (you can literally see P and Alexander crafting performances out of spliced together takes) and the plotting too perceptibly pat to fully succeed. But this is still a nice slice of life look at desperate people trying to live the best that they can. Master P's thespian canon has been slipshod at best, but here, he manages to create the perfect vehicle for his bold bravura. While it will never be considered a classic, Decisions is still plainly entertaining. Few no-budget features can claim such a pedigree.

Koch Vision must have some amount of faith in this film to release it separately from its CD bonus feature status. Visually, Decisions delivers a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen image that tends to crop out information at the top and bottom of the screen. While most of the movie is digitally converted to film, there are a couple of sequences where the direct video feed is utilized, and they give the transfer an edge that the rest of the picture lacks. When will DVD companies learn that an excellent—not to mention inexpensive—added feature would be to provide the original DAT elements for the film. Anything purporting to be true to life would greatly benefit from such an extra.

On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix is superb. Reproducing the tracks from Good Side, Bad Side with aural perfection, the sonics are decidedly bass heavy, but that is to be expected from a score forged out of aggressive rap and hip-hop. The dialogue is almost always discernable, and the few occasions where conversations are masked by the music are easily excused. Since most fans will be interested in the latest No Limit release anyway, the aural presentation here is just what the Master ordered.

As for extras, the DVD comes up a little short. Unless you love Master P music videos (there are three here, all for songs from Good Side, Bad Side) or ads for his various enterprises, there's not a lot of contextual goodness to be found on this set. From research done on the 'Net, it appears this is the same disc with the same specs that was released as a bonus inclusion in P's latest "joint." Too bad Koch couldn't have fleshed out the package with some film related swag.

There will be some who see Decisions as yet another example of Master P's delusions of artistic grandeur. Most of his fans accept his flights of fancy outside of the rap game (clothing line, basketball tryouts) but there may even be a few of those who find this film a bit too much. If, however, you simply sit back, toss aside all preconceived notions, and let the movie work on you, it is possible that you will come to appreciate its easy, minor charms. The decision here is simple—give this movie a chance. You may actually be glad that you did.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Koch Vision
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Independent
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Three Music Videos
• Two Merchandise Advertisements

Accomplices

• IMDb
• No Limit








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