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Revisiting "New Jack City" 21 Years Later; How Well Does It Hold Up?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 24, 2012 at 4:14PM

Sergio's post just beneath this one, announcing the Blu-ray release of New Jack City got me thinking... now there's a movie that just doesn't hold up 21 years later! Although some would say that it didn't "hold up" during the year of its release! 
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new Jack City

Sergio's post just beneath this one, announcing the Blu-ray release of New Jack City got me thinking... now there's a movie that just doesn't hold up 21 years later! Although some would say that it didn't "hold up" during the year of its release! 

Watching the 1991 film again today, I find myself laughing more often than not, even when there isn't supposed to be any humor.

But ahhh, I recall being VERY excited to see it during the year of its release 21 years ago, and eventually seeing it, and, I must say, really loving it back then! Although, I was in my mid-teens at the time.

I watch it today, and I'm wondering what exactly I saw in it the first time - what we all saw in it, since it went on to gross almost $50 million, on an $8 million budget; the 26th highest grossing movie of 1991, in a year that saw 345 releases.

How would it be received in 2012? I'd say, not well.

Worth noting is that John Singleton's debut, Boyz N The Hood, was also released that same year - the 23rd highest grossing movie of 1991. It's no wonder then that, with 2 so-called "hood movies" released in the same year (before the term entered the mainstream), earning a combined total of $110 million in box office grosses, life was given to the beginning of that early to mid-1990s period, when "black cinema" was so narrowly defined by similarly themed works.

In actuality, New Jack City was released a good 4 months before Boyz; so maybe the success of New Jack City helped Boyz at the box office. It's fair to say that we seem to credit the success of Boyz for launching the "hood movie" craze that soon followed; but it's possible that New Jack actually deserves that recognition - or at least, part of it!

But... as I stated, whatever appeal it had for me in 1991 simply no longer exists; certainly not as strongly as it initially. I guess it was just one of those films that came along at the right time, when we were hungry for that kind of content - during a time (1980s through 1990s) when drug usage and the so-called war on drugs were particularly fashionable.

The film is so cliche-filled (taking into consideration the fact that I'm watching it 21 years later); the acting is terrible in some parts; although, I'd say that I think Chris Rock's performance as a crackhead turned police informant is probably some of his best work ever! Seriously!

The snappy one-liners just sound really corny now, although they were probably GOLD back then.

The film plays almost like a 100-minute music video - the shallow portrayals of women, the cars, the bling, the machismo, the guns, the violence, and of course, the music; you can't forget about that soundtrack! I almost spit out the water in my mouth when Teddy Riley and the rest of group, Guy (remember them), were introduced in a night club scene, after which they performed New Jack City; Or when Keith Sweat (remember him) belted out several notes in a later sequence.

I'd forgotten so many moments from the movie, that seeing them all again was certainly amusing, but fondly so; because I remember the spirit of the times in which the film was made and released.

Also worth noting is Traci Camilla Johns (in what would be her last role, until recently anyway), as Uniqua, the stripper. She gets naked once or twice, and has quite a sex scene with Wesley Snipes' Nino Brown drug kingpin - reminiscent of her work in She's Gotta Have It. I do remember wondering back then, why 5 years after her starring role in Spike's debut, she wasn't doing more *interesting* work, instead of having to play a bit part as a stripper who gets tossed around a bit in New Jack.

I did wonder what the precedent for the movie was, as it plays essentially like a much more polished blaxploitation movie, updated for the 1990s; or even a blaxploitation spoof.

All that said, Mario Van Peebles should still be given some credit for attempting to make an anti-drug movie - one that was also entertaining - given the period during which it was made, even though the delivery is often too deliberate, and I'd argue that it instead glorifies the lifestyle, more than it derides it.

It also helped launch Wesley Snipes's career as an action movie star, with Passenger 57 released about a year after.

I am surprised that there wasn't a sequel, given how successful it was.

How about you? New Jack City memories? Current reactions if you've watched it again recently?

Here's its trailer as a refresher ("Rock-a-bye-baby"): 


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