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Case Number 03121: Small Claims Court

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Guilty By Association

Artisan // 2003 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 22nd, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

There is no honor without truth

The Case

This is a movie about drug dealers…supposedly.

It's about two best friends who end up turning on each other…possibly.

One's name is Drama…the other's name is D-Mo…I think.

Drama gets caught and snitches out D-Mo…evidently.

This makes their pusher partnership go sour…one imagines.

D-Mo confronts Drama in a neighborhood schoolyard…or somewhere nearby.

But instead of popping a cap in his ass, he misses by a mile…obviously.

Instead, he shoots a little girl in the plot point. She dies…unquestionably.

Turns out the child was the daughter of D-Mo's girlfriend…honestly.

But it was not his kid…maybe.

The police pursue Drama for some unclear stool pigeon reason…sincerely.

Holed up in his crib, he kills himself…implicitly.

D-Mo hears about his buddy's brain blowout and decides to turn himself in…apparently.

In prison, the father of the child he killed stabs him to death…violently.

And Morgan Freeman?

His micro cameo makes him Guilty by Association…undeniably.

What a woefully unprofessional piece of homemade rubbish Guilty by Association is. The braindead stillborn child of rap group Section 8 Mob (and based either on their 1999 album of the same name and/or characters they've played in videos), this hypothetical serving of real gang life set in Washington D.C. (their home turf) is a disjointed, confused abomination. It fails to offer anything closely resembling intelligence, while at the same time wanting to position itself as a bad-ass work of guerilla cinema. Its intentions are as plain as the movie itself is indistinct. It tries to be a fiercely independent work of a struggling urban voice pulling itself up by its film stock and sticking it to the standard Hollywood man who insists upon demonizing minorities. And it is, right? Wrong! This film is as liable as its title for giving young African American males an even more pronounced black eye. In truth, there is only one incentive motivating the creation of such a misguided mangle of meaninglessness: greed. The hip-hop community, taking a page out of punk's passionate DIY mentality, have long championed a "do for oneself" attitude, be it in record production, distribution, and/or promotion. And some of the more successful players in the game have branched out into self-made motion pictures, some even having success. Master P (I Got the Hook Up), Ice Cube (Barbershop, the Friday series) and others have shown that talented street rhymers can, sometimes, produce commercial cinema. But just because one has the financial wherewithal to do something doesn't mean that they should. And someone should have told this to group member Po Johns before he stepped behind the lens to plop this poop onto celluloid.

Nothing works in Guilty by Association. Not the ultra-confusing nursery school Scarface dope drama. Not the rag tag band of street-smart SWAT team members. Not Po's direction, writing, or acting. As a matter of fact, one can forgive his mistakes in camera placement, composition, framing, linear story telling, the overuse of voiceover narrative, terribly inconsistent character traits, mostly indistinguishable ancillary players, and rote, formulaic plotting. But two facets of this film demand his penance, not forgiveness. Po tries to essay a dual role, one as Officer Po (real original handle there), leader of the mod squad crackalacka police cops corps and Dunderhead, or Dipstick or D-umb, Po's Pu retarded brother. Not only does Johns lack the necessary acting chops to pull the double team off, he decides that a really bad Afro and a deep, gravely voice is character distinction enough. Or maybe his village idiot sibling is a pirate. Frankly, an attempt at a dual role hasn't been this unnatural since a hotdog made Patty lose control. But the most horrible crime is reserved for the movie's main star selling point. Morgan Freeman appears in about seven minutes of Guilty by Association and minor scenes are no threat to his reputation as Shawshank's redemption or Miss Daisy's favorite driver. He's good, but unnecessary. But what Johns then does is far more insidious. Freeman's small screen time is spliced up and re-edited in at random moments in the movie's running time to remind the viewer constantly that, yes, there is a lot of pointless gang garbage going on here, but indeed, major Hollywood superstar Morgan Freeman is in this film. Johns could argue that, ala Pulp Fiction, he is simply playing with cinematic structure. But the sound wager is that, with all the other awful offal around, Po wanted Mo's continued gravitas to diffuse the stink.

Guilty by Association is just a terrible attempt at first time filmmaking that would have to improve substantially and dramatically to be considered even amateur. Not only can it not maintain a decent, coherent storyline, but it really doesn't have much to say, period. The first eight minutes of the movie are an extended music video montage of the crappy rap theme song, and the last ten or so are overlong credits with even more inter-cut flashback sequences, title card cast introductions, and video inserts. That's almost twenty minutes of framing for an eighty-minute movie. With little over an hour to make its point, you'd think Guilty by Association would be action packed and always on the move. Well, it is hyperactive, but it's the kind of agitation best linked to ADD, not cinematic fireworks.

Artisan doesn't help matters much with its cheap-trashy-trailers-only-as-bonus-content full screen fiasco of a release. This film was obviously made in a substandard fashion and all the flaws show in this compressed, grainy transfer. The sole saving grace is the Dolby Digital audio, which does highlight the intricate beats (and rather average poetry skills) of the groups presented.

Movies like Guilty by Association must keep John Singleton, Bill Duke, and Spike Lee up at night. For decades, Hollywood ignored the voice of the African American filmmaker, thinking them more crass second-class citizens than talented artists. Unfortunately, botched motion picture slop like this only reinforces such a misguided mindset and probably sets the cause for Black Cinema back 50 years. Talk about your unfair blame by alliance.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 9

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Bad
• Crime
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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