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'Turn It Up'

Music-crime film cheats the music

Wednesday, September 06, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Diamond is a gifted hip-hop composer, trying hard to break the vicious circle and cycle of drug-deal trouble that's snared him in the past.

"Turn It Up"

Rating: R for language and voilence.

Starring: Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, Ja Rule, Tamala Jones, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Director: Robert Adetuyi

Web site: www.turnit

Critic's call: 2 stars


We know he's a good guy at heart from the way he treats his ailing mom (when he brings her breakfast in bed), his gorgeous girlfriend (when she brings him news of her pregnancy) and his long-lost musician father, who shows up and needs a place to stay -- namely, Diamond's.

But lead him not into temptation, and oy, veh, lead him out of this rough Brooklyn neighborhood, where the low-life thugs include his best pal and "manager," Gage. Gage breaks down his resistance and talks Diamond into "one last deal" in order to finance that costly demo recording he's trying to make.

Diamond is played by Prakazrel "Pras" Michel of the hip-hop sensations the Fugees, and Gage by Ja Rule. The devil with whom they make their pact is a white drug lord (Jason Statham), in league with a corrupt record company executive (John Ralston). The former has a charming method of disciplining his minions by shaving off pieces of their heads on a delicatessen lunch-meat slicer -- chipped ham goes homicidal.

Diamond's dreadlocked daddy, Vondie Curtis-Hall, comes through with a wise, eye-opening observation: "You've grown up on digitalized music; you think your keyboard sounds like a real piano, and it doesn't." He also issues the fatherly advice to "walk away from it" -- meaning that drug deal. But Diamond walks into it instead.

The inevitable result is a series of double-crosses and shoot-outs (none of which ever produces the interference of a policeman or an arrest), in which the bottom line is that the majority of the cast ends up deservedly dead. That doesn't prevent but, rather, serves to facilitate a quick, incongruous happy-ever-after ending.

The story is based on the novel "Ghetto Superstar" by Pras himself, who is a solid presence if a less than hypnotic actor. Ja Rule, Hall and Tamala Jones as the girlfriend provide credible backup performances.

Director Robert Adetuyi's mistake is too much unappealing violence and not enough of the really quite appealing music -- best of which is a beautiful ballad called "I'm Gonna Love You the Right Way," sung by Faith Evans (widow of legendary rapper Notorious B.I.G.), that proves pivotal in the plot to Diamond's changed thinking.

I'm no marketing whiz, but I think the commercial object here is really the CD -- music-industry life imitating film-industry art -- plus potential video-store rentals from hardcore black audiences. I doubt the movie will make it to any other kind of TV venue because of the enormous number of F-words, approximately three per sentence of dialogue, it contains.

If I'm wrong and it does show up on some cable channel, you'll be less tempted to "Turn It Up" than turn it off.

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