Breaking into prison was easy, but breaking out was a drag.
Two chumps, Jackson (Pras from The Fugees) and Rome (Michael Goorjian, SLC Punk!), are bemoaning their poor luck in an L.A. diner when they realize they're holding a winning lottery ticket. The timing couldn't be more fortuitous because the two are in deep water with a couple loan sharks (Glenn Plummer and former New Edition singer/current Mr. Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown). Just as things are looking up, though, a local thugette named Belinda (LisaRaye, The Players Club) pulls an Amanda-Plummer-in-Pulp Fiction and sticks the joint up, nabbing everyone's wallets, jewelry, and the precious ticket. When Belinda's busted, Jackson and Rome get all dolled up as Jackie and Romie in order to get themselves tossed in the women's penitentiary so they can recover the lost ticket. Many hijinks ensue as the boys struggle to hide their identities as men even as they're caught in the middle of a war between girl gangs The Lilly Whites and Hoes With Attitude, and pursued into the prison by the loan sharks.
It's pretty clear from the opening moments of the film, writer/director Jean Claude La Marre (Higher Ed) desperately wants Go for Broke to be Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, with taut writing and a postmodern self-awareness. Um…let's just say the film doesn't quite succeed in meeting those lofty goals. Dialogue is occasionally smart and funny, but mostly it tries too hard to impress, as when it tosses out ham-fisted references to Some Like It Hot and The Shawshank Redemption, making sure it actually names the films so we don't miss La Marre's cleverness.
To call the acting wooden would be overstatement, but it's often stiff and mannered. Pras and Goorjian, while a decent duo, aren't exactly Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder (Sidney Poitier's Stir Crazy is another film that comes immediately to mind while watching Go For Broke). The roles would've been better filled by standup comics or skit comedians. Pras and Goorjian don't embarrass themselves, but they're not masters of comic timing, either. The other duo in the film, the loan sharks, doesn't make anywhere near as good an impression. You can almost see the strain on Glenn Plummer's face from the physical exertion of carrying the thespian dead weight that is Bobby Brown. Plummer does the best he can with what he's got, and shows promise, but as Belinda tells him in the diner at the film's beginning: "This ain't Pulp Fiction, and your ass ain't Sam Jackson."
Production design is also a problem, as it generally is with low-budget dreck. Things start off pretty well during the location shoots at the diner and apartments in the L.A. area, but quality goes into steep decline once we enter the prison, which looks most often like a converted community center or junior high school. There's a symmetry to the crappiness of the prison sets, though, because that's where the narrative bombs out, too. Plot and dialogue don't reach the threshold of painfully bad until we enter the pen. Things get so implausible and corny once we're on the inside, it's cringe-inducing, so cheesy one can't look away from the horror.
Still, La Marre showcases some decent use of camera. He's smart and deliberate in moving the camera, and in setting up shots to give one as much visual information as possible. The way he uses a muted, natural color palette in the outside world, then heightens the look in the prison by limiting the range of colors and flashing the negative just slightly shows style. His compositions look textbook strong, although Artisan's full screen pan and scan presentation of the film on DVD leaves them crowded and out of whack. Given a decent script and budget, as well as experienced, professional actors, I bet he'd be able to cross the fine line that separates straight-to-video crap from independent film.
Go for Broke's presentation on DVD is less than stellar. In addition to the film being cropped to a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfer displays minor flaws from the source like dirt and nicks, as well as significant and omnipresent video artifacts like shimmering and jaggedness along what ought to be straight edges. Color saturation is good, though, and there's no sign of bleeding.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is fairly flat. Dialogue's clear, but not dynamic. The funk and hip-hop soundtrack by Michael Cohen kicks, though, and is the only thing that gets a lot of noticeable play in the rear soundstage. Too bad the disc only comes with a trailer and some static filmographies; an isolated score would've been nice on this one.
Verdict: Guilty. Go for Broke is sentenced to a nickel in the nearest maximum security women's penitentiary/elementary school/chintzy warehouse set in downtown L.A.
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