"The music biz owns you from the cradle 2 the grave." (must…resist…dry…heave…)
A man on a mission. A dangerous woman. A quest for revenge. The bullets and betrayals fly fast and hot in this comedy/thriller by director Craig Ross Jr. (ahhhh…better…)
Facts of the Case
Conrad "Rad" McRae (Duane Martin) is a smart-talking, free-wheeling private detective who likes unsheathing his handguns in slow motion and dressing like a Death Star technician.
Rad has a partner in anti-crime, Lisa (current direct-to-video sensation Vivica A. Fox), a munitions expert and all-around weapons innovator. Together they make a formidable duo and turn a comfortable living, though I'm unsure exactly how Rad is compensated for his endeavors.
Regardless, Rad, fresh off an undercover bust of a drug syndicate, finds himself hip-deep in hip-hop-hooligans looking to mix a little mayhem. Rad's best friend Benji, an up-and-coming rap superstar is being aggressively recruited by a powerful record label, and his resistance to signing with them costs him his life. (By the way, this is where the "music biz" portion of our film ends.)
Distraught over his friend's death, Rad embarks on a personal crusade to topple the record company, which is fronted by Ruben-Stoddard-clone B. Free (Michael Taliferro.)
But to do this, he must unravel an increasingly convoluted narrative, in which heaps of characters suddenly emerge from the woodwork, including Benji's ex-wife, Venus; the mysterious "Armageddon;" Benji's co-writer; and a couple of snot-nosed kids from the YMCA basketball team Rad coaches.
What Rad unearths is a scheme far beyond a simple music-business grudge. He discovers an imbecilic plot to transport heroin on CDs, a process that is never divulged or even revealed as practical. How does a person get his fix? Lick the discs?
Well, it's obvious these questions aren't for Hustle and Heat to answer. You watch this movie looking for gunfire, fisticuffs, and smart-ass remarks, and that is what you'll get.
My initial fear was that Duane Martin would turn out to be Martin Lawrence-lite. The opening sequence found him riffing the similar, painfully unfunny shtick, and I prepared myself for 90 minutes of facial contortions, eyes bugging out, and overreaction-passing-as-comedy. Thankfully, I was spared, and Duane Martin settled down. He still let off a few zingers, but it was not nearly the ongoing cavalcade of torment I was predicting.
The same, methinks, can be said for the movie. At first glance, and judging from the movie's tagline, I thought I was in for another waste of time set to a hip-hop soundtrack and set in the music world for no other reason than it be set in the music world.
But what director Craig Ross Jr. offered was an overachieving low-budget action yarn, sporting some surprisingly amusing bits, decent-enough action, and one of the zaniest Final Bad-Guy Deaths I have seen in quite a bit (more on that later.)
Those are the hits. As for the misses, there are a few, too.
First, disbelief has to be really suspended in a bunch of places. These characters—good and bad—have the worst aim I have ever seen. Imperial Storm Troopers are deadeyes compared to these clowns. (That's two Star Wars references; can we get a third?) Obviously, everyone should concentrate on taking the guns out of their holsters as slowly and stylishly as possible. Hitting the target is secondary.
Second, the idea of the drug-CDs is so inane and ill conceived that it almost dragged the movie into the realm of self-mockery. For one thing, the CDs don't play. Also, as soon as the authorities figure out that all the discs of a certain rapper are actually compacted heroin or whatever, it seems to me they'd be a lot easier to trace. And if you're caught "snorting albums," you can't really flush them down the toilet, can you?
Lastly, the final 15 minutes or so just completely tank. The filmmakers are so focused on providing big plot twists and revealing secret killers that the heights of complexity and double crossing reached in the last few frames defy definition. How many doors have to swing open to reveal either someone at gunpoint or a surprise character waving around a pistol, being all smug and smarmy?
But nothing can prepare you for how the main villain meets his or her end.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
With a press of a button, the woman behind all the insanity explodes, the unlucky victim of a…tampon bomb!!!!
END OF SPOILER ALERT
The overall presentation is pretty sharp, with a nice widescreen treatment and a crisp picture. Sound is a strong 5.1 mix. The hip-hop soundtrack, while often distracting, in my opinion, delivers with this one, never overpowering the film. The sound mix should really work the subwoofer in your system. And the incessant gunfire (see aforementioned: marksmanship, piss-poor) puts the surrounds to good use.
Ross lays down a decent commentary track; he's more than happy to divulge all the secrets that went into filming the movie. It's a pleasant cut and quite informative in many sections, probably a must for the aspiring low-budget auteur.
Crippled by some common-sense gaffes and a ludicrous final sequence, Hustle and Heat falls just shy of being an under-the-radar gem. It's more like really shiny zinc.
The accused are relegated to a work-release program where they are ordered to…er…play with Ewoks! (And there it is, number three! Boo-yah!)
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
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