As an in-your-face evocation of what it’s like to be young and living in an urban combat zone, New Jersey Drive could scarcely be more vivid and immediate. At the same time, lack of a discernible point of view on this out-of-control lawlessness and mayhem until the final minutes is a nagging problem throughout, leaving the viewer nowhere to put one’s concerns or sympathies.
Nick Gomez’s very low budget first film, Laws of Gravity, did no business but attracted critical attention for its visceral camera style and evident street smarts. Working on a considerably better-funded scale with the support of exec producer Spike Lee, Gomez [from a screen story by him and Michael Marriott] has fashioned a world where random crime is a lifestyle and nothing-to-lose kids respect nothing and no one.
At the centre of things is Jason (Sharron Corley), a black teenager who lives with his mother and sister in the toughest part of Newark. Jason mostly follows the lead of his closest friend, a shaven-headed wise guy named Midget (Gabriel Casseus) who seems to need to steal cars the way a junkie needs a fix. The conflict between the local hoods and the cops escalates into a war neither side can win.
Pic’s strongest suit is its realism. On the verbal side, much of the dialogue is so up-to-the-minute idiomatic that it almost sounds like another language.