By Marc S. Sanders
Sometimes I’ll come across a movie that I will not like until the very, very end; until literally the last 60 or 90 seconds. The Hughes Brothers’ film Menace II Society is one such movie.
There’s great skill at work here. I saw that from the film’s explosive beginning and then all the way through. This is a story centered in the California ghetto known as Watts, following the 1965 riots through the drug trafficking 70s and then quickly transitioning into present day 1993 when the film was originally made. Rodney King was fresh in the country’s psychosis.
A kid named Caine (Tyrin Turner at the adult stage) is the central character. We see him at age 10 witness his father murdering a friend by shooting him across the kitchen table. (If you’re keeping score, that’s another Samuel L Jackson cameo.) Caine’s mother eventually dies from an overdose; his father we are told dies in a deal gone wrong. Caine is blessed to move in with his grandparents. He befriends a young woman with a 5-year-old, along with another friend who tries to influence the teachings of Islam, as well as a kid with a football scholarship. Then there are those who see no other way to live except to always be strapped and ready for a drive by or to rip off a car. Caine’s closest friend, O-Dog (Larenz Tate) will be more than happy and carefree to fire his pistol at anyone who says something disagreeable.
So what didn’t I like? Well, maybe it’s me, but I normally look for a transition in a main character. That special moment where a kid’s life will change; where it will occur to him to make a change. That doesn’t happen for Caine, and it frustrated me. He is impulsive to beat up someone, steal a car, get a girl pregnant, continue to deal and continue to disregard those that try to rescue him from the threat of living in the hood. Opportunities are offered and yet Caine never considers them as better alternatives.
Maybe that’s how it is in the hood. I will not even presume to understand. My upbringing was more advantageous to me and I’m not an authority on the despair and violence that exists in that world. Sad that it still must persistently exist at all.
So the film is quickly approaching its end, and STILL I’m asking what is the point if Caine is the same here as he was in the beginning. He’s no better. He’s no worse. He’s just the same with no change.
But, then…THEN…Caine’s last voiceover kicks in with some telling words accompanied by The Hughes Brothers’ wise choice to accompany it with some quick flashbacks, and now I fully understand and realize that what I watched was an insightful piece of shoestring budget filmmaking that left me thinking.
Second chances are fleeting. Life can easily be taken for granted with no reason to hold any value for it. There will be casualties and collateral damage because of your recklessness. Yeah, it’s all a recognizable “After School Special” but it still holds power here.
Forget it!!!!! Don’t even ask me to spoil what that epilogue literally recited or its relevance. Come back to me after you’ve watched Menace II Society. Then we’ll talk.