Based on a true story, "Bounce" lays on the problems but subtly suggests solutions in its account of two South Bronx rappers trying to get a break. This ultra-low-budget look at inner-city aspirations sports admirable energy, full-bodied characterizations and narrative urgency. Pic deserves attention as a "black" item with crossover potential.

Based on a true story, “Bounce” lays on the problems but subtly suggests solutions in its account of two South Bronx rappers trying to get a break. Sporting admirable energy, full-bodied characterizations and narrative urgency, this ultra-low-budget look at inner-city aspirations and ghetto reality drew attention in August when Miramax — with a script of the same title in the works — demanded a title change. But despite modest production values, this “Bounce” deserves attention in its own right for what first-time helmer Adam Watstein has put on screen: a “black” item with crossover potential.

Script grew out of the true experiences of Walter Velasquez, who coached kids with Watstein; Velasquez told Watstein about his rap partner’s murder.

Lorenzo (Jamal Mackey) deals drugs and is constantly in trouble, whereas his rapping partner, the more focused Walter (Velasquez playing his younger self) attends college and teaches athletics to youngsters. Walter’s pregnant girlfriend, Narine (Pamela Johnson), is Lorenzo’s sister, which keeps Walter in constant contact with Lorenzo’s frenzied welfare-based household.

Walter and Lorenzo have a real crack at a record contract, but the only kind of crack Lorenzo understands is the variety his hellcat of a mother (L. Vee Anduze, in an unnerving perf) smokes. Lorenzo ends up in jail just as their act is building momentum; Walter has to decide whether to wait for him to get out.

Lorenzo hails from a particularly strident environment — both affection and disgust are most often expressed via yelling and rough physical contact.

Walter, whose single mom is supportive, finds a father figure and source of inspiration in youth group director Anthony Young (playing himself), who donates office space to Walter as he tries to further his recording career and set up housekeeping with Narine.

Once out of the joint, Lorenzo promises to keep his nose clean but is on a collision course with disaster.

Building blocks of tale are not new, but there’s an appealingly rough-hewn and convincing tone to the proceedings. Velasquez gives an unpolished but steady perf as the young man trying to be a rock in a setting where others’ lives seem to shatter like shale. Ghetto lingo rings true, as do the emotional stakes.

Title means “leave,” as in “Let’s bounce.”

Bounce

Production

A Dendrobium Films production. (International sales: Dendrobium Films, N.Y.) Produced by Adam Watstein, Jennifer Lyne. Co-producers, Walter Velasquez, Anthony Young. Directed, written by Adam Watstein; story, Walter Velasquez, Anthony Young.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Olsen; editor, Ron Kalish; music, Lord Finesse; sound, Josh Apter; associate producer, Gary Greengrass. Reviewed at Chicago Film Festival (First and Second Feature Competition), Oct. 14, 1999. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Himself - Walter Velasquez Lorenzo - Jamal Mackey Lorenzo's mother - L. Vee Anduze Himself - Anthony Young Narine - Pamela Johnson
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