Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 12/13/02 08:24:04

"Leguizamo Can't Narrate His Way Out Of This One"
3 stars (Average)

I have always been a fan of John Lequizamo, since I first caught him on-screen in Baz Lurhman's Romeo and Juliet. He does his best with the unfortunate script presented to him here - but uncertain direction and mid-film dragging ultimately sink any hopes this film had at achieving a quality product.

Empire starts off strong, with Leguizamo's character Vic, a successful drug dealer, narrating a roadmap to the NY streets where he works and plays. Often times, when a film relies on narration as heavily as Empire does, it can become an anchoring tethering our suspension of disbelief squarely to the theatre seat. Surprisingly, this film manages to combine the voice overs into the general storytelling palette, so that the audience feels as though it is an integrated device and not at all tacked on.

Essentially, we get the feeling that Vic's life is about to fall apart. The man has everything under control - his business, his love life, his future - until he meets an investment banker one night at a party. To even the most unobservant moviegoer, it is obvious that this moneyhound is going to be poison to the somewhat simple Vic's life. Incidentally, the character, Jack, is played by Peter Sarsgaard, and I swear that the director must have had some wires implanted into his skull so that whenever they needed him to utter a line it gave him an electronic shock and opened his mouth. It was as though he was somewhere between asleep and an opium landscape throughout the entire film - the part would have been perfect for Robert Downey Jr.

And so the rest of the film deals primarily with Vic's betrayal of himself and his previous lifestyle, as he attempts to move into a world he only peripherally understands through the tenuous link of wealth creation. It's kind of like watching a puppy wandering along the highway, shuddering as the cars pass closer and closer, except in this case the puppy is a violent Latino millionaire. Aside from a somewhat amusing turn as Tito by rapper Fat Joe, and a few laughs at the expense of a semi-retarded gang member, there is not much to recommend this film to the average moviegoer. If you like Leguizamo, then you will probably be somewhat amused by this film. Even so, I find it hard to believe that even the most hardcore fan would not be bored by the out of place extended musical interludes (yes, you read that right) and awkward moralism applied with leaden glove.

In short, had this film not been marred by tedious editing and a predictable storyline, the premise of the film, that of Vic being taken in by Jack, could have assumed a much more important role, as previews had us believe. Instead, we are treated to 1.5 hours of buildup for 5 minutes of revenge. Interestingly, this film was conceived as the flagship for the newly created Arenas Entertainment, a subdivision of Universal Studios aimed at attracting the interest and dollars of the Latin community. When director Franc Reyes was accused of playing up the negative aspects of Latin street culture, he claimed he was merely 'staying true to his target audience'.

Oh yeah, I forgot the best part - Denise Richards is in the movie, and she gets shot right between the eyes - the entire audience cheered. Was that a spoiler?

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