All About the Benjamins (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

'All About the Benjamins'... relies heavily on the considerable chemistry between Epps and Cube: sometimes it's just fun to watch them entertain one another, which they clearly do.

All About the Benjamins

Director: Kevin Bray
Cast: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Roger Guenveur Smith, Carmen Chaplin, Valarie Rae Miller, Eva Mendes, Lil Bow Wow
MPAA rating: R
Studio: New Line Cinema
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-03-08
Wanna be ballers? Shot-callers?
Brawlers, who be dippin' in the Benz wit the spoilers?
On the low from the Jake in the Taurus,
Tryin' to get my hands on some Grants like Horace.
-- Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins (Remix)"

The genius of hip-hop -- the brilliant wordplay, the rhythmic complexities, the incisive social and political analysis, the humor -- rarely translates to film form. That's not to say that there aren't ambitious and smart hip-hop movies, only that most movies, especially most movies that get distribution, take an easy route, stereotyping hip-hop attitudes and characters into stereotypical terms -- bling-bling, banging, pimping, ass-shaking. You know, tired. All About the Benjamins includes these popular elements -- producer-writer-star Ice Cube surely understands the business he's in -- but it mostly does so with a sense of self-consciousness and wit, so you don't have to feel mad about it. On top of that, it features some of hip-hop's genius, in its mostly clever script, stylish visuals, class critique, and emphasis on charismatic performances to carry the day.

Directed by Kevin Bray (who has previously directed videos for J. Lo, the Fugees, and 'NSync), the movie has an obvious and amusing visual aggressiveness. It begins with a scene that looks a little like it might be Friday In the Trailer Park. Ice Cube is playing a Miami-based bounty hunter named Bucum (most often pronounced "Book 'em," as in "Dan-o") Jackson. He makes his way through an evergladesy back lot, tracking a lowdown dirty-dog (Anthony Michael Hall), instantly identifiable as such when the camera pans to show the Confederate flag in his window and the Bugs Bunny-and-Sambo cartoon on his tv, that makes him laugh uproariously. Bucum comes in through the back, only to be ambushed by dirty-dog's scary professional-wrestler-looking girlfriend, wearing daisy dukes and carrying a shotgun. During the ensuing tussle, Bucum crashes through the confederate flag window, punches out scary wrestler girlfriend, and beats down dirty-dog. The scene ends when Bucum tasers dirty-dog's nuts. And for anyone who's been wondering what Anthony Michael Hall has been up to, well, now you know.

All this action-packedness -- enhanced by mobile camerawork and flashy fast-cuts -- has nothing to do with anything except that it shows off Bucum's determination and skills -- and he lots of both. So here's the thing: Bucum wants out of this rinky-dink business where he's tracking bail jumpers, in order to open his own Private Detective's Agency. He's not aiming high, exactly, but he's aiming more or less seriously. And then he gets tangled up with small time bail-jumper Reggie Wright (Mike Epps, Cube's partner in Next Friday and the upcoming Friday After Next). And well, plans get messed up.

While Bucum is chasing Reggie, they inadvertently run into a bizarre and bloody diamond heist, though they don't know that's what it is (you, on the other hand, get to see the murders. The mismatched perpetrators -- Ursula (Carmen Chaplin) and Ramose (Roger Guenveur Smith) -- are unaware as they flee the scene that they have a stowaway, namely, Reggie, who is in turn thinking he's cleverly eluding Bucum. Once he's discovered in the back of the van, Reggie panics and drops his wallet, which just happens to have a winning (to the tune of $60 million) lottery ticket in it. This series of events gives the partners-to-be sort-of parallel reasons to be involved in tracking down the thieves: Reggie wants his wallet and Bucum (who doesn't believe the lottery ticket story) wants the collar, which, he says naively, will give him the big-ups publicity he needs to start up his detective agency.

In fact, the lottery ticket story is true, and it's a ticket whose numbers Reggie has been playing for years, for his hot-mama girlfriend Gina (Eva Mendes). Aside from her role in picking the numbers, Gina's primary function is a matter of formula: in a buddy film, at least one of buddies must involved in a long-term, straight-asserting relationship; otherwise, all that close-contact activity can be nervous-making. And true to form, Benjamins includes a briefly running gag about Reggie biting Bucum's nipple during a fight in a parking lot -- hardy har -- while Gina stands to the side, telling Reggie to stop because, as she says repeatedly, "Baby, you can't fight!"

Gina is slightly more energetic and slightly less incidental than most girls in buddy films (think, maybe: Tea Leoni in Bad Boys). But even if she gets her own little pieces of action with Bucum's sidekick Pam (Valarie Rae Miller, playing her Dark Angel character, Original Cindy, only straight), it's safe to say that the buddy formula remains intact in this film.

To enable this plot to roll out, the diamond thieves, so inept and so reprehensible, provide numerous occasions for conflict and physical displays. And, as if it matters, they have their own troubles: angry at their botched job, their boss, a Eurotrashy villain called Williamson (Tommy Flanagan), exacts brutal Eurotrashy vengeance, clobbering Ursula in the face and shooting Ramose, point blank, in the wrist. This bit of sadism leads to more, at Ramose's expense: when Bucum and Reggie catch him doing something or other, they haul him into the bathroom, handcuff him to the shower rod, and take turns torturing him by twisting his metal-brace screws into the flesh of his arm. There's something perverse about this particular brand of comedy and boy-bonding (Gina remains in the other room, making faces as she hears Bad Guy's wails of agony), but it's plain that Bucum and Reggie share a certain sensibility, much as they deny their affiliation.

The more they fight with one another, the more they seem destined to be together. And the film, erratic and badly plotted as it is, relies heavily on the considerable chemistry between Epps and Cube: sometimes it's just fun to watch them entertain one another, which they clearly do. Just so, the film is structured like a romance, complete with a series of breakups and make-ups (and the usual eroto-phobic jokes along the way: when Bucum tells Reggie to retrieve his keys, "Dig in my pockets," Reggie makes all kinds of noise about it; and when Bucum tells Reggie to shoot at someone, he answers, "Who you think I am, Mel Gibson!?"). All the while, the partners work toward what is ultimately the same end, namely, to make enough benjamins to move on up. Reggie is most obviously in need of cash money (the small apartment he shares with Gina is filled with candles and shrines that she uses to pray for the lottery to come through). His neighborhood is also rough, embodied by a rough-tough corner kid (Lil Bow Wow, in his acting "debut"), who is apparently willing to sell information to everyone, including 5-0.

At the same time, Bucum has his own hard background and resulting impulse to get over (the manifestly odious Williamson is a yacht dealer when he's not stealing diamonds). Bucum's previous job -- cleaning up at the dog track -- most obviously serves to establish a spectacular, multi-tiered setting for one of several shootouts, more importantly, it establishes his motivation: he sees what the rich folks have and wants a piece. You glimpse Bucum's ambition (and his peculiar tastes) in his fondness for expensive tropical fish; since they're in Miami, most every interior has an aquarium in it, all of which must be shot up or run down, preferably in slow motion; at one point, someone actually shoots a bazooka at a fish truck, so that dead fish fly through the air, landing whump-whump-whump all over Bucum's "raggedy-ass" Impala.

Cleverly, it's in these details -- the car, the fish, the yachts -- that the film actually makes its class analysis most evident. While by the end, it's winding down abruptly, like it's run out of ideas, it has also made its points. Underlining the silliness of the bling-bling, All About the Benjamins also shows its importance in the day-to-day world. Class is a function of performance and appearance as much as it is a function of material wealth -- if you look the part, the old school folks get nervous, but they have to move over. And this is the hip-hop bling-bling game, forcing the old school folks to move over, to recognize that all benjamins come with costs as well as rewards.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Melkbelly splices insanely supercharged punk energy with noise-band drums and super catchy pop melodies. It's a bewildering, intoxicating sound which has caught the attention of underground Chicago audiences. We ask singer Miranda Winters how it works.

"I've always, I guess, struggled to decide what kind of music I wanted to play, something sort of abrasive and loud or something sort of pop and folky. I would bounce back and forth between the two," says Miranda Winters, the dynamic singer who careens between pretty girl pop croons and banshee wails in the course of, really, almost any song in the Melkbelly catalog. "When we first started Melkbelly, the goal was to figure out how to make them work together, but I don't know that we actually knew that it would work when we started."

Keep reading... Show less

Is Greta Van Fleet the second coming of Led Zeppelin?

My first exposure to Greta Van Fleet was through the last 30 seconds of "Highway Tune". I've listened to Led Zeppelin since the early 1990s, but I couldn't place the song. My initial thought was that it's a lost track I missed off the recently expanded remasters. When the song finished and the DJ said it was Greta Van Fleet, I wondered who they are. They are three brothers and a friend from Frankenmuth, Michigan. Joshua Kiszka supplies lead vocals, Jacob Kiszka provides lead guitar, Samuel Kiszka plays bass and keyboard, and Daniel Wagner pounds the drums. The first two are 21 and the other two are 18.

Keep reading... Show less

The everywhere-at-once trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith goes it alone, alternating Monk tunes and Monk-inspired originals for solo trumpet. S L O W.

Wadada Leo Smith is having a great run in the critical eye. In 2016 he topped many polls with his meditative but free composing and presentations, collaborating with the likes of Vijay Iyer and making jazz move in interesting new directions. He has long been fascinated with the music and legacy of Miles Davis, an obvious brass inspiration, and he was among the first to revive real interest in Davis's later period of playing.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.