Empire review by Matt Fuerst


Unless you live in a vibrant urban center, you may have missed the theatrical release of this one a few weeks back. Well this past weekend I agreed to take the missus to see Two Weeks Notice so in exchange I wanted to pick a guy movie to puff up ego and allow me to freely beat my chest. In an act of masochism mixed with machoism, I selected Empire from the short list and we bought our tickets. We entered into one of the small theatres in the multiplex and instantly I was greeted with a surprise. The theatre was 75% full 15 minutes before showtime. Additionally, throughout the theatre, every group was represented. All ages, colors and backgrounds. Really interested.

Well, the first thing you are going to experience in a movie like Empire isn't a opening monologue, credits or even the production companies logos. No, the first thing you are going to see are trailers for average to subpar movies, and a lot of them. If I ever see the trailer for Biker Boyz again, it will be too soon. Seriously, if you haven't caught any of the buzz on this Reggie Rock Bythewood directed vehicle, make the trip to the Mecca and read up.

Anyway, onto the actual content of the film, which is I imagine why most of you read the JAC. Empire follows the life of Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo), a heroin dealer in the Bronx. The first 10 minutes of Empire have information most densely packed than the same initial runtime of Fellowship of the Ring, which I found to be quite surprising. Victor does a Blade Runner-esque voice over describing his hood, the fellow dealers he shares the New York streets with, his coworkers and friends and how the general drug dealing system works. It's a good time to pay attention because from that point on they refer to the people and places without any real aid so you could find yourself lost. Which, for a rather formulaic action flick sure can make you feel dumb. After the intro, we watch Vic doing his hustle thing on the streets and eventually decide that maybe the drug dealing life isn't for him. Through a friend (a real funky looking Denise Richards) of his girlfriend (Delilah Cotto) he meets Jack Whittmer (Peter Sarsgaard), a Wall Street mover and shaker type who offers to do some investment banking with Vic's cashish. Of course in the world of drug dealers even the bankers are crooks, and old Jackie Whimmer takes a powder with Mr. Rosa's moolah. The movie very briefly switches into chase mode and Vic makes after Jack to repo his money. The movie wraps up shortly thereafter but I won't take away all the storyline for you.

I usually like to put a few fluffy points first in my analysis, but I've had this on my chest since my viewing Monday night - never, ever have I taken in a movie with a worst soundtrack. This includes adult features. The soundtrack on Empire distracted me on at least 4 occasions that I can recall days later. There is music in here that just does not fit, is ridiculous, and often is not helped by the ridiculous directing and editing (One scene with Vic's girlfriend in slowmo is still rattling around in my mind). The soundtrack is often booming to the point of overtaking the dialogue, which is another big no-no. Tsk Tsk.

The trailers really tried to sell this movie as something it wasn't. The setup of the trailer was something like this: Leguizamo is a drug dealer, but he's a pretty cool looking one, so it's OK. Whittmer is a slick whitey from Wall Street, who swoops in and robs Leguizamo blind. Whittmer has the apperances of being a little angel (suit, tie, nice haircut, lots of money) but since he stole money, he really isn't OK. Leguizamo takes revenge upon Whittmer, because Whittmey is evil. The framing of the story was one of the lower classes rising up and taking control against the upper classes since the upper class has screwed the lower class just one too many times with the robbing of Leguizamo. A movie along those lines is usually something I would go out of my way to avoid, but I couldn't help but be drawn in. Moth to a flame I guess. None of this theme really plays itself out in the film, but I didn't know that going in, did I?

Other than this one huge sticking point, Empire isn't too bad of a watch. I personally find Leguizamo to be a pretty creepy looking guy, in spite of his character's constantly telling the audience how good look he is, which I find fits the part perfectly. I don't expect my neighborhood heroin dealer to be an ugly mo fackey. We are presented with all the necessary elements that of the action/gangster/drug dealer genres. A gun battle ensues in a dimly lit room. Innocents are harmed and killed. Cops are evil and freely let the drug pushers kill each other. Crosses and double crosses happen amongst friends. I learned: the drug business isn't a fun one to be in. Certainly not as fun as reviewing movies.

While I have no doubt that Empire was a fairly low budget piece, it doesn't show it's lower budget roots. The life and streets of New York City show through very well and in well muted colors (while many movies go for the vivid color look, Empire appropriately mutes the colors and take a dingy, yellow/green tint to them. It's like watching the movie through a 40 ounce bottle of Mickey's Ice, which is very appropriate. Or maybe that's just the stuff that us suburban kids drink to feel like we're urban kids.). Sets are well decorated and there are a couple of tastefully done tracking shots.

Overall, you could do better. Empire didn't please me as much as my all time favs like New Jack City or Belly but it was a good way to entertain myself for 90 or so minutes.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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