Directed by Ernest Dickerson, who also co-wrote it with Gerard Brown, and released in 1992, this is the first movie that featured Tupac in a starring role. He played Bishop, a teenager in New York who, in the beginning of the film, spends most of his days ditching school and hanging out with his best friends, Q (played by Omar Epps), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), playing video games at a local arcade, or watching old black and white gangster flicks at Steel’s apartment.
As it opens, Raheem appears to be the de facto leader of the group, who tries to keep the rest of them from getting into too much trouble and keeps them united as friends. When Steel is caught by police and forced to go back to school, it’s Raheem who insists that the rest of them wait for Steel to sneak back out and join them again. When a local hood robs a bar with a shotgun in the middle of the day, it’s Raheem who keeps the others from joining him, like Bishop wants to, because it’s too dangerous. And when Bishop and Q get into a fight, it’s Raheem who breaks them up and forces them to shake hands. But Raheem is not perfect, he has a baby with an ex-girlfriend, but they’re not on good speaking terms. Out of the foursome, Q is the only one who has any ambition, and that’s to be a DJ. He’s preparing a demo tape to join a local DJ contest, which Raheem encourages. And the crew helps Q by stealing records for him to use in the contest from a local record store. Q is also in a secret relationship with an adult woman, a nurse named Yolanda (played by Cindy Herron).
Things go awry on the night of the contest, as Raheem has come up with a plan to rob a local liquor store, and bought a gun for them to use. During the robbery, Bishop shoots the store owner in the back of the head, seemingly for no reason, and the crew run to an abandoned building. Everyone’s pissed at Bishop, and when Raheem tries to take the gun back from him, Bishop shoots and kills him. Q and Steel are freaked out and try to stay away from Bishop after that. The shooting goes to Bishop’s head as he starts thinking of himself as a big tough gangsta (with “Juice”). He shoots and kills a local gang-leader who used to harass him, and even threatens to shoot Q if Q ever turns on him. And then…well, I won’t spoil the rest, but the film raises the stakes until it reaches a dramatic and exciting conclusion
This movie came out not long after movies like Boyz N The Hood and New Jack City, and was somewhat overshadowed by those films, but I enjoyed it. While Omar Epps is technically the star of this film (& he does a very good job), it’s Tupac who steals the show, with an intensity behind his eyes that’s far beyond his years showing through in every scene. The film also features Samuel L. Jackson in a supporting role as the owner of a local arcade, and there are cameos by 80’s rappers EPMD and Special Ed.
TWO THUMBS UP!
This film can be bought on DVD @ Amazon.com