Exuberantly rude and crude, but generally more frantic than genuinely funny, “3 Strikes” is poised to score quick and fade fast in urban markets. In marked contrast to the similarly slapdash “Friday” (1995), which first-time helmer D.J. Pooh co-wrote with Ice Cube, pic has limited crossover potential, and likely won’t reach beyond its target audience of inner-city ticketbuyers.
In making the leap from musicvideos to debut feature, Pooh has handicapped himself with his thinly written script. And he’s obviously encouraged his actors to punch up the dialogue, which doesn’t help matters; much too often, there’s an unmistakably desperate air to scenes unduly protracted through improvisation.
Worse, “3 Strikes” relies much too heavily on multiple repetitions of gags that aren’t especially funny the first time around. Antonio Fargas plays a minor character who exists only to periodically — and noisily — break wind while everyone around him reacts to the olfactory assault. When a comedy needs this many fart jokes to get laughs, it’s safe to assume that something is seriously amiss.
The title has nothing to do with baseball, by the way, so don’t expect to see Kevin Costner or Ken Griffey Jr. among the victims of Fargas’ gas attacks. “3 Strikes” refers to California’s controversial law that requires a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for anyone convicted of a third felony. Rob Douglas (Brian Hooks) is introduced as a two-time loser who’s determined to walk the straight and narrow after he’s released from L.A. County Jail. But on the day of his release, Rob is picked up by a buddy, J.J. (De’Aundre Bonds), who’s driving a stolen car, and when J.J. is pulled over by a police cruiser, the car thief responds by firing his gun at the cops.
Rob manages to run away while J.J. is slightly wounded in the shootout. (Of course he’s shot in the backside — it’s that kind of movie.) But even before he can reach his parents (Starletta DuPois and standup comic George Wallace) or connect with his girlfriend (N’Bushe Wright), Rob becomes the target of a citywide manhunt. He’s easily identified in a video of the shootout, which airs around the clock on L.A. newscasts.
Nevertheless, he’s able to wander freely through his neighborhood, taking only minimal precautions to avoid arrest while seeking an old friend (rapper E40) for a quick loan. Once he gets the money, he goes out of his way to make himself conspicuous while checking himself and his g.f. into the Ritz Carlton Hotel — where, obviously, none of the staffers ever watches TV newscasts.
“3 Strikes” is not exactly zippy in its pacing. None of the characters — not even Detective Jenkins (David Alan Grier), the primary cop on Rob’s trail — appear to be in much of a hurry to get anywhere or do anything. Late in the movie, there’s a scene in which Rob is pursued by LAPD officers, SWAT marksmen and surly attack dogs while he’s on his way to surrender in full view of TV news cameras. This may be the slowest chase of its kind since the cops dogged O.J. Simpson in his Bronco.
The narrative is rife with gaps in logic — it’s never clear why Detective Jenkins turns nasty late in the game, and nearly causes Rob to be killed — and the casual sexism of the enterprise is more than a little off-putting. But a few of the actors provide some modestly amusing funny-business.
Hooks makes a winning impression, even though he’s hard-pressed to keep from being blown off the screen by some of his more uninhibited (or undisciplined) co-stars. Mo’Nique revels in her naughtiness as a Big Beautiful Woman who promises to provide exculpatory evidence if Rob will join her for some bedroom acrobatics. And Grier papers over the inconsistencies of his character with a sly performance enhanced by spot-on comic timing.
Production values suggest that, whatever his shortcomings as a feature director, Pooh can get the most from a limited budget. The soundtrack features a lot of rap and hip-hop numbers, almost all of which are played very, very loudly.