Next Day Air Directed by: Benny Boom Cast: Donald Faison, Mike Epps, Cisco Reyes, Mos Def Time: 1 hr, 30 minutes Rating: R
Plot: An unthinkably outlandish tale about a young postal worker whose life is turned upside down when one procedural mistake lands him in the middle of an underground war between would-be drug dealers, oddly-named thugs, and Mexican drug lords so intimidating it nearly trumps their very existence. A comical take on how being down on your luck doesn’t nearly measure up to having a very large price on your perpetually “altered” head.
Who’s It For?: TV fans will be lured into this because of Faison’s (Turk on "Scrubs") inclusion. Since he broke onto the big screen in Clueless his movie career has left much to be desired. Now a TV star, his return to the silver screen is a welcome happening. With a supporting cast that includes perennially brilliant character actors Mike Epps and Mos Def, this one should be difficult to pass up for just about everyone who has a funny bone in their body. Much of the plot plays like a Tarantino disciple who loved Jackie Brown just as much as he adored Reservoir Dogs, and any of Guy Ritchie’s earlier works.
Expectations: This film is a melting pot of actors who know how to wield their share of comic-timing laden lines that keep even sub-par films afloat (think Dave Chappelle’s efforts in Half Baked, or Con Air). Director Benny Boom knows how to pack a punch that delivers an occasionally vivid allusion to the brutal violence that comes along with stories about the drug trade. His ability to balance scenes of brutality with instances of dim-wittedly brilliant comic moments keeps the faint at heart laughing despite their occasional need to cover their eyes. If you dig being grossed out, and forced to “LOL,” get in line.
Donald Faison as Leo: Faison is almost too likeable a character for an audience to dislike. This is a film in which it may have helped to employ another actor to play a perpetually stoned slacker with little to no redeeming qualities. Don’t put up a fuss just yet, the skills this young actor wields adds a significant flare to a film that possesses an almost shocking amount of dark moments. Leo’s character is a welcome addition to level out the negative with a light-hearted interpretation of America’s underachieving, second-chance-given youth. A nice banter occurs between Leo and his onscreen mother (played with jarring sarcasm by Debbie Allen) that provides a welcome amount of stern-mother/lazy-stay-at-home-twenty-something-son to the whole experience. Score: 7
Mike Epps as Brody: Mike Epps is a stand-up comic who can assimilate his act to the big screen because he knows how to harness timing better than most trained actors. He’s like a black Dennis Leary in this sense. All the film’s best lines are given to him, and he executes in these moments better than his onscreen counterparts could hope to. Brody is an idealistic, albeit inept thief who sees the unexplained arrival of “10 bitches” of cocaine as a blessing in disguise. Only a slow-witted high school drop out could come to such a conclusion, and it’s Epps’ superior talents that best bring out this character’s ironically endearing qualities. Score: 9
Cisco Reyes as Jesus: As the young Puerto Rican “mover of merchandise,” Reyes shines as a young man torn between his fear of a Mexican drug lord/boss (played with stoic bad-ass-ness by Emilio Rivera), and his own identity as a “thug” who can’t be bargained with. Inexplicably armed with an arsenal of impressive weaponry, and a siren of a girlfriend’s (sultry newcomer Yasmin Deliz) verbal-bullet-spewing “boca” (“mouth” en ingles), Jesus’ sole goal is to find the package that never arrives at his apartment. This “gear” is his responsibility, and if it isn’t found, his life is surely over. An enjoyable take on how machismo nearly outweighs fear, but is ultimately set aside when a gun’s pointed directly at your head. Score: 8
Mos Def as Eric: Though he gets as little screen time as I’d require for a Scorecard Review write up, you can’t pass up a chance to admire how much he does with such a tiny role. This is a guy whose got as much “street cred” as anybody, and yet his character is the virtual “straight man” juxtaposed by a legion of thugs, drug lords, and lazy-as-Hell co-workers who accidentally wind up at the epicenter of a violent war over “blow.” Eric is a simpleton who steals from those who trust the generic mail delivery carrier he works for. His “Employee of the Month” picture hangs in Leo’s mother’s office, and he’s used as the “standard” by which Leo should be measured. It’s a hilarious side story, and no one could’ve done it better than this rapper/actor. Mos[t] def[initely]. Score: 8
Wood Harris as Guch: As a wanna-be “gangsta” Harris hilariously depicts the weed-fueled “leader” of a small gang of small-time-crooks whose dingy apartment if filled with only items stolen from unsuspecting victims. His empty glare, and clueless drug-dealing knowledge lend a great deal of comic tools for Harris to wield, and he does so ably. It’s a wonder his likeness hasn’t been used more often in similar roles. Guch may be the character that brings him more national attention. Bottom line: He’s funny as Hell. Score: 9
Talking: There is an unreal amount of street-talk these character engage in, and there’s one scene in particular where the “white language” is translated via subtitles. This is a unique slant, and provides many laughs from unsuspecting audience members. The African-American dialect is something I’ll never be able to master, but this is as good a film to learn from as any. Score: 8
Sights A stale portrait of the grim side of Philadelphia. They make it look as though the city is littered with an off-putting amount of deviants. To be honest, this very well may be Detroit as a stand-in for the city of “Brotherly Love.” It’s shot in a very cut-n-paste sort of way that Quiten Tarintino brought to the forefront in the early 90’s. Think New Jack City meets Snatch, meets Reservoir Dogs. Score: 6
Sounds: Very suitable urban feel to the soundtrack. No overly popular music is included, and it’s quite refreshing. Score: 6
Best Scene: When Leo is threatened by his boss, who says he’s down to his last straw as an employ, we aren’t shocked to learn that “Ms. Jackson,” is actually his mother. It’s a hilarious method to divulge this sort of information and tells us a lot about each character based on their rapport in this scene.
Ending: Entirely unexpected, and not in that “Oh my God, I never saw this coming” sort of way. Though it’s not entirely a shock-laden ending, you will not see what’s coming until it happens. The silence looming in the room where very few get out alive speaks volumes. A brave ending that took heaps of moxy to execute.
Questions: You will have quite a few, but what cancels out their relevancy is the absurd context amidst which the film its unfolds . This is a shoot-me-up with comedic actors giving us breathers of laughter. Don’t try to make it anything more. You’ll ruin it.
Rewatchability: Yes. Add to your collection upon its DVD/Blu-Ray release.
You have to remember, sometimes Hollywood provides us with motion pictures that have no hidden message. This is a good thing. Each year we are thrust either the bombastic blockbuster (as the looming summer months promise to provide), or the thinking man’s indie darling that’s supposed to open our eyes and rest in our hearts. Next Day Air is an escapist’s dream. A film you seldom have to think about in order to enjoy it. There are no underlying lessons to be learned. It’s a comedy so far-fetched its oft-overly violent visuals aren’t nearly as jarring as they would be in a Van Damme, or Seagal flick. Those sort of films are comedies by accident, and this movie intends to mesh the talents of its cleverly adept cast with an ass-backwards story no sane human being could possibly take seriously. Enjoy the escape to Philly, it’s a welcome, albeit bumpy, ride.
Final Score: 8/10