A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
There is a moment in “New Jack City” when Nino Brown, a character who has made millions by selling cocaine to poor blacks, relaxes in his suburban mansion. He has his own screening room and is viewing “Scarface,” the Al Pacino movie about a drug lord. Nino brags to his girlfriend that he will never make the mistakes the guy made in the movie—but as he stands in front of the screen, the image of Scarface's dead body is projected across his own.
In another movie, this moment might look like simple cinematic tricksmanship. In “New Jack City,” it has a special impact, because this ambitious film aims to be a similar record of the rise and fall of a big drug business. The movie was advertised (no doubt wisely) as a slam-bang action adventure, but in fact it's a serious, smart film with an impact that lingers after the lights go up.
The story involves the career of Nino (Wesley Snipes), a smart man with a certain genius for organization, as he ruthlessly takes over a Harlem apartment building and makes it the distribution headquarters for his cocaine business. He picks his lieutenants carefully, goes to elaborate lengths to enforce security, makes a lot of money, and seems invulnerable. He also surrounds himself with opulence and beauty. As played by Snipes, he has the threatening charisma of a great screen villain.
I've seen a lot of movies where the lifestyle of the drug lord looks seductive—until he's killed in the last reel, of course—but this isn't one of them. It's a character study of a bad man running an evil business, and by the end even his mistress is telling the cops she'll testify against him. The movie isn't a comic book that's been assembled out of the spare parts from other crime movies; it's an original, in-depth look at this world, written and directed with concern—apparently after a lot of research and inside information.