I recently stumbled across American Pie on basic cable, which led me to ask the question, what has Chris Klein been up to? The answer arrived in my mailbox a few days later. Apparently he has spent some time making Caught in the Crossfire, a direct-to-video cop movie with 50 Cent. Well, I’m glad Klein is still getting work. It feels like the roles that would have gone to him at the peak of his career are now going to his new (and one might argue, slightly more talented) clone, Channing Tatum (look into this crystal ball and see your future, Channing Tatum).
Rappers turned actors are a tricky proposition. Ice Cube and T have solid film careers, and Fresh Prince is now one of the biggest movie stars in the free world, and before he embarked on a career of imitating federal agents, DMX looked poised to follow a similar path. Yet for every artist that successfully makes the transition from musician to legitimate thespian, there are cautionary tales like Treach from Naughty by Nature, and Ja Rule, among others. Let us not forget Vanilla Ice’s ill-advised foray into film.
So, how does Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson fare when it comes to acting? He wasn’t bad in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Granted he played himself, but it still counts for something. Photos from the upcoming Things Fall Apart show an almost emaciated 50, so at least you know he’s dedicated enough to lose some weight for a role. Christian Bale did it, so that, too, might count for something.
The jury is largely still out on 50’s second job, and I originally hoped that Caught in the Crossfire would shed some light on the subject, but alas, it didn’t. Though he gets third billing, 50 plays Tino, an informant who is only on screen for a few minutes, and even then doesn’t do much other than look uncomfortable in the back of a police cruiser. Klein is Briggs, a Grand Rapids, Michigan homicide detective who, with his partner, Shepherd (Adam Rodriguez, CSI: Miami), investigates the murder of an undercover officer, which leads them down a twisted path involving murder, drugs, gangs, and corrupt cops.
Overall, Crossfire is up and down and all over the place. From the first frame the movie practically screams “gritty crime drama” and during moments of high action, the jittery, hand-held camera can be disorienting.
Written and directed by Brian A. Miller, Caught in the Crossfire feels like it was made by people who only know about crime from watching crime movies. Characters continually refer to “Gangland” as if it is a physical place, like you could be a resident of Gangland, or sit on the city council of Gangland.
Every cop-movie cliché you can think of pops up at some point. Briggs is a renegade who says things like, “I’ve seen things no one should see”, and wants to “cowboy up” and crack skulls, while Shepherd is more controlled, and tries to do the right thing, regardless of the personal costs; there is the alcoholic cop just trying to get to his pension; and there is a scene where Briggs has to go tell the dead cop’s wife (Christine Lakin of Step by Step fame, who, aside from a female bartender with one line, is the only woman in the entire movie) that her husband is dead.
There is even the obligatory handing in of the badge and gun. In sum, you’ve seen most of this movie, before.
There is an extended prologue, and the main action of the first two acts is framed in parallel interrogation scenes and told in flashbacks (there is even a flashback within a flashback). The structuring device is clunky and takes some getting used to. In the end, it makes sense that Miller constructs the story this way, but it is largely mishandled, obvious, and jarring to watch as the narrative jumps all over the place without cause or warning.
Klein looks suitably mussed up to play a hardscrabble detective. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the acting chops to pull off the necessary emotional range, and when he is supposed to be at his most most intense, his over the top delivery borders on comical. He tries multiple times to have crazy eyes, but fails miserably.
With that notable exception, the rest of the cast delivers solid work. Rodriguez gives the performance of the movie, with the most wide-reaching scope as a character, and Richard T. Jones and Michael Matthias are good as police brass.
Despite some serious problems, Miller does create an atmosphere of tension that diffuses throughout the entire film and seeps into every scene. On the surface, the characters may be fairly stock types, but they are given enough complexity to make their stories compelling to watch.
I despise when movies have a twist just for the sake of having a twist. Most of the time they are awkward and damage the film. The twist at the end of High Tension ruined what was otherwise a pretty kickass horror movie, and filmmakers run the risk of tarnishing everything they’ve worked to create by trying to tack on a clever ending. It’s difficult to effectively pull off a twist near the end of a movie, but Crossfire actually does. I didn’t expect it, but Miller executes a decent twist. Unlike many sudden shifts, it’s set up well and earned, which makes it satisfying in that regard, but you don’t see it coming, which also makes it fulfilling on that count.
I won’t say that Caught in the Crossfire is a great movie, and it isn’t something that I will ever feel the need to watch again, or heap praise upon, but it isn’t bad. There are certainly movies in the genre that are much, much worse. It is a decent mystery/thriller/cop drama, and if that’s your jam, you might enjoy it.
The DVD packaging is slick and looks nice, though it prominently shows 50 Cent holding a gun, which he never does in the movie, but hey, it looks cool. Aside from a few trailers for other Lionsgate releases, the only bonus feature is a ten-minute reel of outtakes, flubbed lines, and actors dancing between takes. The light feel of the feature stands in sharp contrast to the dark, serious tone of the movie, but it isn’t that interesting anyway, so you’ll probably want to skip it.