How far has the rap music scene advanced in ten years? For one thing, Judge Lacey Worrell points out, the acid-washed jeans have vanished.
How far will you go for the dream…how much will you risk for the music?
Fly by Night is one of those disappointing movies with potential that it never quite delivers. There are a few flashes of brilliance, particularly in the high-energy performance scenes, but the story itself is far from compelling.
Facts of the Case
As aspiring young rapper Rich (Jeffrey Sams, Soul Food) is locked in a subway booth all day dispensing tokens, he practices his craft and dreams of making the big time. He favors hard-core rap with little more than a staccato drumbeat, a microphone, and a DJ in the background scratching records on a turntable. His rhyming talent is evident, but he lacks a partner to make his act truly come alive.
It looks as though Rich's dreams of fame may just come true when he teams up with I-Tick (Ron Brice, Clockers), who is the perfect brooding counterpart to Rich's more jovial, easygoing performance style. Together the two of them prepare to take the rap world by storm, but it remains to be seen whether the distractions in Rich's life…namely, being separated from his girlfriend and son, having to live down his lack of street credibility, and keeping a new girlfriend (Maura Tierney, ER) happy…will be enough to topple the duo's dreams of fame.
In the beginning of the film, when Rich's obsession with rap creates what looks to be an irrevocable rift in his relationship with the mother of his child, Rich chooses rap. I suppose a film about a guy sticking with his day job to do right by his kid would not make for an exciting movie, but Rich's defection from his home and subsequent coupling with a new woman do not exactly make for a sympathetic protagonist.
Another problem with this film is that it often comes off as a thinly veiled infomercial for rap music. Take, for instance, a scene where I-Tick and several friends are attempting to explain to a WASP-y woman the reasons why rap holds appeal for youths from poor neighborhoods. If you took away the set and put a podium in the middle of the room, it could be a speech. It is an awkward moment that sticks out like the last few minutes of each episode of The Brady Bunch and Full House when it was time to preach The Big Lesson to the audience. I prefer to be shown, not told. If a film is able to adequately convey its message through the actions of its characters, there is no need for a soliloquy inserted into a scene just to make sure we get the message.
The ending (which is more than likely supposed to be a twist ending, so I won't reveal it here) is unremarkable and manipulative. If anything, it is a letdown. It leaves the viewer wondering why they invested an hour and a half of their time in this movie. The point of any story, in a book, on the screen, or anywhere else, is to move the characters forward in some respect. Fly by Night's conclusion is abrupt and unmoving, like a sentence without a punctuation mark.
The only acting performance of note is that of Ron Brice, whose character simmers with barely disguised anger; I-Tick is obsessed with the idea of people respecting him, even at the expense of the fame and fortune Rich so desperately craves. This disparity creates what appears to be an unresolvable conflict, although, surprisingly, I-Tick comes off as the more sympathetic of the two main characters. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if the movie had been told from his perspective, it would have made for a much better moviegoing experience.
The use of rapid-fire slang, especially in the first half of the movie, may alienate some viewers. Some might contend that slang is a necessary inclusion in a film about the rough lessons of the streets, but the modern classic Boyz in the Hood, which was released two years before Fly by Night, managed to do it while still maintaining a highly universal appeal. Fly by Night is moderately well written but poorly acted and inexpertly directed. As this movie is from 1993, many of the hairstyles, clothing (acid wash jeans, anyone?), and cultural references—to the long-cancelled The Arsenio Hall Show, Bobby Brown, and MC Hammer—feel dated and out of sync with how far rap and hip-hop have evolved in the present day.
This release contains no special features, and the picture is grainy; however, the sound, especially during the electrifying club scenes, is adequate.
After watching VH-1's Driven, about the powerhouse duo OutKast, I'm wondering when their story will get the Hollywood treatment. That would make a far better film than Fly by Night.
The judge orders that Fly by Night be banished to the 99-cent rental shelves.
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