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Review: Reggie Bythewood's 'Gun Hill' Brings Back the Spirit of 'New York Undercover'

by Jai Tiggett
June 13, 2014 1:34 PM
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Larenz Tate in BET Original Movie 'Gun Hill'

Editor's note: Yesterday, BET Networks announced a Wednesday, July 2, 9pm ET/PT premiere date for the original movie, "Gun Hill," which stars Larenz Tate. Here's our review of the film after we saw it at UWFF last fall, if you missed it...

Those who were fans of the 1990s police drama "New York Undercover" will remember the series being just as popular for its sense of style and cultural influence as it was for its story lines. While wondering if Detectives Williams and Torres would solve their case each week, the equally urgent question was who the new love interest or musical guests would be. The series leads were not only clever detectives able to navigate the gritty streets of New York, but like all the best cop characters, they were also the kind of guys you wouldn't mind having a drink or watching the game with. This is the same flavor that writer-director Reggie "Rock" Bythewood brings to "Gun Hill," which he describes as a distant cousin to the series he wrote and produced until 1997. 

BET recently gave "Gun Hill" the "Being Mary" Jane treatment, with an original feature film presented at Urbanworld Film Festival, laying the groundwork for a possible TV series. The movie stars Larenz Tate as Bird, an ex-convict who returns to the Bronx and tries to escape his shady past by assuming the identity of his deceased twin brother Trane (also played by Tate), who just happens to be a cop working for the DEA. 

Larenz Tate in 'Gun Hill'

Usually the "good twin/evil twin" plot is tricky to pull off seamlessly, and here there's an uncomfortable opening exchange between the two estranged brothers, apparently to tell us who's who and give everyone's backstory. It's almost as if the film can live without these opening scenes, and perhaps did at one point, until someone supposed that maybe audiences "wouldn't get it." But we soon learn that this is all a set up to get to where Bythewood really shines, in delivering the twists and turns of the cop drama itself. The premise of Bird living as Trane under the threat of being discovered, and uncovering secrets about his brother's life along the way, makes for great suspense and sets up an intense moral dilemma to carry throughout the story. From there we follow Bird's new adventures as a cop, plotting drug busts and fighting off bad guys, with occasional narration giving his inner dialogue and connecting him back to his twin. 

It's easy to see why Larenz Tate was cast in this role, as he demonstrates equal parts street savvy, humor, and likability in the conflicted character of Bird. His scenes with Aisha Hinds, who steals the show as a badass drug kingpin, alone are worth the watch and beg the question of what deviltry the pair will get into next. Emayatzy Corinealdi also appears as Bird's ex, balancing the tone of the film with her trademark softness and vulnerability. 

Another highlight is the cultural commentary threaded throughout "Gun Hill," from naming its main characters after legends of jazz, to the film's take on why and how drugs make their way into black communities, to the 52 Blocks technique used in Tate's fight scenes, which evolved from the tradition of black prize fighting. 

Photography is straightforward with an intentional darkness adding to the tone throughout. The project apparently has been a long time coming, as we've covered it since production took place back in 2011. While it will be nice to see it give the audience a little more credit with less exposition and narration, "Gun Hill" is wholly entertaining and it will be great to see it go to series. With all the romantic comedies and reality programming vying for black audiences' attention, having a solid police drama like this on television will be a refreshing change. 

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  • Chris | June 19, 2014 5:42 PMReply

    Sounds like Banshee with a dash of Orpahn Black.
    I'll take it.

  • Mike | June 16, 2014 2:08 PMReply

    This looks really good and intriguing. I like Larenz Tate really shines in the previews. I will definitely be watching this. I also hope to see this on Netflix like "Real Husbands of Hollywood" and "Being Mary Jane."

  • Mark & Darla | June 14, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    This looks complicated, like complications.

  • s | June 14, 2014 9:21 AMReply

    This looks really good. Does the movie have a clear beginning, middle, and end or is it basically an extended pilot? I'd like to see a full TV series since the plot is pretty complex.

  • Phred G | June 13, 2014 2:49 PMReply

    At first was put off by the ORPHAN BLACKish intro but, can see where it is necessary. Glad to see some actors getting work that I don't see as often as I'd like (Larenze,Aisha). Good luck to them all. I will go see the film when it comes out. I LIKE the NYU vibe.

  • Monique A Williams | June 13, 2014 1:42 PMReply

    Very much looking forward to this!

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