Utilizing a wall-to-wall rap track, luxury cars, leggy babes, de rigeur weaponry and a high-end body count, “State Property” flaunts its hip-hop gangsta video roots (having been produced inhouse by the Roc-a-fella Record label, directed by one of its star video helmer and acted entirely by its resident rappers and execs). Result is fairly good-looking video shot down by a hackneyed script, atrocious acting and a total lack of redeeming social value. Despite quasi-naked women shimmying up and down poles or getting it on in hot tubs, theatrical outlook appears dim. Still, “Property” may secure a solid video following among diehard hip-hop fans and those who like their action uncluttered by characterization or logic.
Generically, Abdul Malik Abbott’s debut feature slots itself as a gangsta pic, a simpleminded distillation of “Scarface” wherein Beans (rapper Beanie Sigel), needing to move out of his mother’s house, wipes out half of Philadelphia on his way to the top. Beans’ career game plan to move up the drug-dealing ladder is to point his gun at someone and tell him to “get down or lay down” (the film’s oft-repeated tagline and vastly preferable working title). If the guy chooses wrongly or deliberates too long, he and his minions are shot, beaten to death with a baseball bat, set up to be massacred by cops, or whatever. There’s no dearth of options, as revealed by numerous set piece bloodbaths, constructed with surprising intricacy and flair that belie the film’s miniscule budget.
The elements only really come together in these showdowns, which incorporate both John Woo-type slo mo and more classically layered multiple focal-point coverage.
However repetitive the m.o. or idiotic the premise, the images flow kinetically. A wipeout during a neighborhood basketball game nicely intercuts players, spectators, killers and mourners. A police-raid montage rhythmically recalls the vintage ’30s Warners house style.
Abbott’s apparent nod to “Scarface” goes beyond the inevitable token coin-flip homage in that, throughout the pic, he clearly means to create an ironic distance from the severely limited consciousness of his hero. But since Sigel’s acting range is even more limited than his character’s consciousness, it’s difficult to gauge where the irony begins or ends around, say, his fervent espousal of family values: “When I’m behind the trigger and ready to rock someone, I always think: Damn I got a family.”
Beans’ v.o. narration (pale shades of the Hughes brothers’ “Menace II Society”) sports a relentlessly egotistic worldview that even death can’t extinguish, continuing “Sunset Boulevard”-style as Beans, face down on a courtroom table in a pool of blood instead of a swimming pool, discourses on his fate while openly questioning the verisimilitude of the final shootout.
The script works best when trading in insults, threats and epithets. Whenever it aspires to “higher” emotions, it flounders through fields of platitudes, helped not at all by the actors’ amateur one-note performances and the soundtrack’s total derailment once it’s no longer propelled by rage and adrenaline.
Characters only come alive during their entrances and exits: They sweep in dramatically, strike a pose, shoot, deliver their snappy exit line and swoop off. Asked “Why did you shoot me?” by an incredulous victim, Beans goes off on a confused, rambling comeback as he pumps bullet after bullet into his hapless questioner. When the victim miraculously survives to engineer Beans’ downfall, it almost reads as poetic justice for a badly written sendoff.