sat 15/06/2024

Blu-ray: Deep Cover | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Deep Cover

Blu-ray: Deep Cover

Early '90s American action movie takes on the drug trade and racism within the police

Jeff Goldblum as a sleazy lawyer with ambitions in the drug trade; Laurence Fishburne as the undercover cop

Bill Duke’s 1992 thriller Deep Cover receives the Criterion restoration treatment, and certainly the neon noir lighting looks luscious and fresh. It’s a shame the screenplay, the directing, and most of the acting hasn’t stood the test of time. 

The narrative is more than a little moralistic and obvious right from the start, opening with a flashback to a young boy witnessing his addict father die attempting a liquor store robbery as Christmas looms. The boy grows up to be a troubled Cleveland cop, Russell Stevens (played very well by Laurence Fishburne), who gets recruited by an ambitious DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) officer (a parodically slimy performance by Charles Martin Smith). Stevens is sent to LA with the aim of bringing down the South American cartel responsible for the illicit drug trade on the West Coast. 

Stevens's transformation from upright police detective to coke dealer brings him into an uneasy partnership with David Jason (Jeff Goldblum), a corrupt lawyer keen to make millions through the alternative pharmaceutical trade. Deep Cover was made in the wake of Hollywood realising that there was a lucrative audience for films made by African-Americans that would draw in large black audiences and curious white filmgoers, too. If they were sufficiently exciting and flashy in style, social conscience messages could be woven into the mix. 

Boyz n The Hood, New Jack City and Jungle Fever had been box office hits in 1991, and Deep Cover seemed promising. Duke, a veteran actor (Car Wash, American Gigolo), had a great deal of experience directing such '80s TV cop shows as Cagney & Lacey and Hill Street Blues. Though his big screen adaptation of Chester Himes' Rage in Harlem was not a box office successhe still seemed a good choice to helm Deep Cover once it was decided to recast the original script with a black lead actor. Fishburne, who had hit the big time with Boyz n the Hood, was the obvious choice to star as the undercover cop.

Criterion Deep CoverScreenwriter Henry Bean was hot from writing the excellent police corruption thriller Internal Affairs (1990). An uneasy, sleazy tale of male friendship and betrayal, it starred Richard Gere and Andy Garcia, both brilliant.

If the makers of Deep Cover were hoping for similar chemistry between Goldblum and Fishburne, they were to be disappointed. Their acting styles are noticeably at odds. Fishburne is all method intensity and tortured moral gravitas while Goldblum is being himself, having too much fun improvising outrageous dialogue. He's too bouncy to be really convincing as a coke-snorting wheeler-dealer trying to take over from the old school drug Mafiosi.

His attempt to portray a manic white guy infatuated with the idea of being a cool black drug lord just doesn't wash. The degrading comments Jason makes to Stevens about why his character loves screwing black women are barely challenged. As for the actresses in the film, it's best not to mention any names as they seem to have all been cast for looks alone and then left to fend for themselves with clichéd lines and little to no direction. Rarely have I seen so much dull acting by beautiful women.

Fans of Miami Vice will enjoy the men’s fashion choices (Versace suits and leather trench-coats). The score by Michel Colombier is propulsive and punctuated by a theme song from Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre. Meanwhile students of blaxploitation classics of the '70s such as Shaft, Across 110th Street and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, will find pleasure in watching Deep Cover with its '90s riff on the genre conventions. The extras include earnest analyses by film historians and a new interview with Bill Duke to help viewers along. But don’t expect a neglected masterpiece of African American cinema, it's just a tad too clunky. 

Fishburne is all method intensity and Goldblum has too much fun improvising outrageous dialogue


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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