An exceptionally precocious bow for writer-director Brandon Sonnier -- who's still just a junior at USC -- 'hood drama "The Beat" sports exhilarating rap segments that make it seem even more a rap musical than "8 Mile."

An exceptionally precocious bow for writer-director Brandon Sonnier — who’s still just a junior at USC — ‘hood drama “The Beat” sports exhilarating rap segments that make it seem even more a rap musical than “8 Mile.” Story organization is problematic, however, and pic is not quite arty or splashy enough to fit current theatrical niches. But it’ll make an attractive ancillary item while opening industry doors for the helmer.

Philip aka Flip (Rahman Jamaal) is one-half of an aspiring rap tag team until his brother dies in a violent mugging. Too devastated to go solo, fleeing a now-bleak parental home, he takes to living on the streets. Older mentor Tony (Keith Ewell) gets him to pick up the mic again; success might arrive after all. Yet at the same time, intercut sequences see Flip as a humorless rookie cop determined to bury his past. Ending reveals an “Incident at Owl Creek”-type path-not-taken gimmick, but script’s contrasting parallel-realities come off more haphazard than ingenious. Nonetheless, offbeat subsidiary characters, good perfs, and terrific, non-MTV-ish rap segments make “Beat” refreshing. Tech values are well above micro-budget average.

The Beat

Production

A Tripped Out Prods. and Symbolic Entertainment production. Produced by Brandon Sonnier, Jason Peterson, Ryan Seashore, Scott Speer. Executive producers, Ken and Ruth Arnold. Directed, written by Brandon Sonnier.

Crew

Camera (color), Graham Futerfas; editor, John Randle; music supervisor, Ryan Seashore; production designer, John Welles. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 19, 2003. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Rahman Jamaal, Michael Colyar, Steve Connell, Jazmin Lewis, Keith Ewell, Coolio.
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