"Yet another spin on the old Tragic Gangsta story"
Like an ill-tempered and scrappy kid too young to know how tiresome his schtick is, "Empire" bursts onto your TV screen, either blissfully unaware or clearly disinterested in the fact that everything it offers has been done elsewhere. Several times. And to much better effect.With its scant running time and resounding attention to detail, Empire could work as a primer for those who have yet to graduate into films like Scarface and Goodfellas and New Jack City and Carlito's Way and...
You get my drift. John Leguizamo plays Victor Rosa, a feared and respected drug thug on the soiled streets of inner-city New York. Vic answers to only one person: his majestic supplier known as "La Colombina". But the years of crime have yielded an angst-ridden gangsta. Vic longs to grow up and mature as a person...or he just wants a whole lotta money and a swanky loft apartment on the Upper East Side. In Empire, these are the same thing.
When Vic's longtime girlfriend announces a pregnancy, Vic scrambles to find a new shortcut. His answer comes in the form of Jack, an oily and shifty-eyed investment banker who just may have the payday Vic's been looking for. Logically, Vic discovers too late that the polished halls of industry are coated with as much blood as the mean streets of the barrio.
But that doesn't stop Franc. (yes, with a period) Reyes from jamming three or four comfortably familiar plot threads into the background. Just to keep things perfectly rote and predictable, we're offered the "Vic gets too big for his britches" montage, the "do not mess with the boss' girlfriend" lesson, and the age-old "kill your childhood pal to prove your loyalty" gimmick.
It's all here and none of it's new; the two saving graces of the movie come in the form of Leguizamo and Sarsgaard. Each actor takes on about 85 pounds of cliche-strewn yappage, and damn if both of 'em don't somehow make it all sound like music. Leguizamo (toned down from his usual mania) offers a casual menace that makes his kingpin status quite believable, while Sarsgaard (doing his best to channel a young John Malkovich) oozes a seamy and understated charm all over the screen.
Empire isn't exactly an awful movie, but it earns an Incomplete grade because it borrows just a little too much and offers precious little to call its own.The leads make it watchable (plus it's always a hoot to see Denise Richards onscreen in any form) and it couldn't really be called a boring film; it's worthwhile in a Crime Flick Greatest Hits sort of way.