Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Return to sender

Posted on Wed, May 13, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Next Day Air
Director: Benny Boom
Screenwriter: Benny Boom
Cast: Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Donald Faison, Omari Hardwick, Emilio Rivera
Release Date: 2009-05-13
Rated: R
Genre: Film

If you’ve seen the poster for Next Day Air, you’ve seen approximately 10 percent of the frames containing prominently name-dropped Mos Def (Be Kind Rewind, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). If you’ve seen a trailer, which pitches the film as a sort of dope-dealing deliverymen buddy comedy, you’ve probably seen every second of film he’s in. The same goes, practically, for poster-mate Faison (Scrubs), who serves more as a catalyst than any sort of character, and probably filmed the bulk of his scenes during one of Zach Braff’s extended daydream sequences. Next Day Air is a film about the underworld mayhem that ensues when two small-time thugs, Guch and Brody (Harris and Epps), receive a large cocaine shipment by mistake. Faison plays Leo, the unwitting deliveryman, and Mos Det plays his friend Eric, a fellow deliveryman who has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

Not that there’s a problem with that. Epps and Harris have guns and motivations, while Faison has a bitchy ex-girlfriend and works for his “mommy,” and Mos Def genuinely seems to have no idea what he’s doing here. The bait-and-switch ad campaign betrays a more problematic overall confusion, however. Music-video director Boom can’t seem to decide where to point the camera.

Harris (The Wire) and Epps (Next Friday) — underdog criminals who specialize in robbing drug dealers — are the obvious choice, but they seem to be the only characters first-time screenwriter Cobbs isn’t interested in developing. A flashback to a failed bank robbery is played for laughs, and between receiving the misdirected delivery and attempting to sell the drugs it contains, Guch and Brody do little besides call some hookers and bullshit about the money they’re about to get.

Cut to their nervous neighbor Jesus (Cisco Reyes), who’s been expecting the delivery from one frightening coke lord (Rivera). Jesus, who prefers the hard-J pronunciation, and his alternately combative and supportive girlfriend Chita (Yasmin Deliz) provide what passes as the film’s emotional core, and potential drug procurer Shavoo (Hardwick) and his nameless bodyguard (an unrecognizably ripped Darius “Eddie Winslow from Family Matters” McCrary) provide some of the requisite honor-among-thieves and “quitting the game for good” subplots, but no one can claim to be the film’s heart. Brief but attention-grabbing attempts at stylization — timeline hopping and subtitles for slang — hint at aspirations to Americanize Guy Ritchie’s frantic vernacular-heavy crime capers, but Next Day Air’s story is played much too straight, and the quirks here are too common to serve as shorthand characterization.

Next Day Air is a comedy film with no quotable gags, an action film with only the most routine acts of violence, and a crime film in which most of the crimes are accidental and the criminals are reactive. It’s not good enough to recommend, but not bad enough to merit that “refuse delivery” pun I was hanging onto.

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