An interesting meller whose impact is somewhat muffled by its low-budget, vid-shot presentation, “Thicker Than Water” reps a respectable first feature for rapper turned exec producer and thesp Mack 10 and actor turned director Richard Cummings Jr. Stylistically a bit flat but nonetheless putting some ambitious spin on boys-in-the-hood conventions, pic opened Oct. 27 in various U.S. cities; it should score modest but solid returns from an African-American aud base in initial playoff, with even better prospects in store for homevid and DVD release slated for early next year.
Mack 10 and Fat Joe lead a cast full of rap stars as DJ and Lonzo, heads of two rival L.A. “gangbanger” factions who also happen to be aspiring music producer-promoters. Initial encounters between the two sides are hostile — DJ is beaten up when he’s caught alone on Lonzo’s home turf — but once they accidentally meet on neutral ground, the duo realize that their commonality outweighs any competitive urge. Both need a major cash influx to bankroll their musical aspirations, so they decide to pool forces and hook up as delivery men for wealthy drug lord Gator (CJ Mac).
This alliance pays off for a while, but given the high stakes in play, it’s inevitable that violence and betrayal ensue. Once one of their confederates is killed in a senseless fight, DJ and Lonzo find themselves at odds once again. But at a funeral for the father DJ never really knew, they discover they’re linked by family blood — the title’s significance — and settle their differences for good. An epilogue provides all those deserving with a happy future, followed by an all-star rap video under closing credits.
Ernest Nyle Brown’s complicated, sometimes convoluted screenplay offers both exploitation and superficial critique of familiar drug/gang/gunplay elements; there’s not a great deal of depth to the fast-moving storyline, but neither does it descend to puerile gangsta romanticizing. While the narrative sprawl and large character scroll are at times hard to follow, former “Northern Exposure” regular and musicvid helmer Cummings keeps things moving efficiently. But the rather flat lighting for high-def video shooting (transferred to 35mm) precludes creation of much visual atmosphere.
Dialogue may be the most expletive-riddled in recent memory; perfs are variable but generally adequate. Ice Cube appears in a key smaller role; comic Buddy Lewis and yet more rappers (Drayzie Bone, Flesh ‘N’ Bone, B-Real, Bad Azz, WC) make cameo appearances.
It’s worth noting that at a time when mainstream Hollywood thesps are getting flak for their hyperslimness, this cast is almost uniformly heavy-set — albeit only on the masculine side. Femme thesps (including Kidada Jones and Tom’ya Bowden as DJ’s two otherwise dissimilar g.f.’s) are by contrast stereotypically trim, buxom and clad in as little as possible.