This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Turn It Up'' tells the story of a moral weakling who compromises his way through bloodbaths and drug deals while whining about his values. Here's one of those movies where the more the characters demand respect, the less they deserve it. What's pathetic is that "Turn It Up'' halfway wants its hero to serve as a role model, but neither the hero nor the movie is prepared to walk the walk.
The rapper Pras, of the Fugees, stars as Diamond, who dreams of becoming a superstar and spends hours in the studio, fine-tuning his tracks with small help from his cokehead mixer. Diamond's best friend is Gage (rapper Ja Rule, who appears in the documentary "Backstage,'' which also opens today). Gage finances the studio time by working as a runner for the drug dealer Mr. B (Jason Statham), and Diamond helps on deliveries, including one in the opening scene that leads to a shootout with a Chinese gang.
Dead bodies litter the screen, but there is not one word in the rest of the movie about whether Diamond and Gage are wanted by the police for questioning in the matter of perhaps a dozen deaths. By the end of the film, the two of them have killed, oh, I dunno, maybe six or eight other guys, but when we see the words "one year later'' onscreen at the end, it is not to show Diamond in prison but simply to share some sad nostalgia with him.
The movie is very seriously confused in its objectives, as if two or three story approaches are fighting for time on the same screen. Gage is an uncomplicated character--a sniveling weakling with a big gun who murders in cold blood. Diamond is more of a puzzle. He is loyal to Gage and yet demurs at some of his buddy's activities ("She's pregnant,'' he protests, when Gage wants to kill a cleaning woman who witnessed one of their massacres). He seems to accept Gage's low-life atrocities as the price of getting his studio time and not having to actually work for a living. The stuff involving Gage, Mr. B and the significantly named music executive Mr. White is standard drug-rap-ghetto-crime thriller material. But when Diamond's mother dies and his homeless, long-missing father (Vondie Curtis Hall) turns up, another movie tries to get started. The father explains that he abandoned his wife and son because he put his music first, and that was the start of his downfall. Now he sees his son doing the same thing. What he doesn't know is that Diamond has a pregnant girlfriend (Tamala Jones), and won't even give her his cell phone number, because that's the first step on the long slide to enslavement by a woman.