Thursday, May 21, 2009


Lurking beneath the surface of former gangsta rap video music director Benny Boom’s derivative African-American crime comedy “Next Day Air” (** out of ****) lies the not-so-subtle message that pedaling narcotics is a perilous occupation. This predictable, R-rated, 84-minute, “Pineapple Express” carbon copy about minority drug dealers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, blasting holes in each other over a lost horde of cocaine generates more bloodshed than buffoonery. Ironically, first-time scenarist Blair Cobbs has penned a melodramatic screenplay that casts its largely black and Hispanic actors in despicably stereotypical drug dealer roles.

Nobody in “Next Day Air” deserves a shred of sympathy except the protagonist’s mother. She is literally the only character that isn’t up to mischief. Worse, the producers have squandered the talents of one of the funniest black comedians alive—Mos Def—in a role so trifling that it qualifies as a cameo. Although she has been as criminally wasted in a similar minor role, it is gratifying to see Debbie Allen of “Fame” back in a big-screen film. Furthermore, funnyman Mike Epps usually makes even the worst comedy tolerably entertaining, but his presence does little to enliven “Next Day Air.”

Director Benny Boom and scenarist Blair Cobbs establish in the first ten minutes of “Next Day Air” that the misguided protagonist, Leo Jackson (Donald Faison of TV’s “Scrubs”), loves to get high on reefer. His mother, Ms. Jackson (Debbie Allen of “Fame”), calls her spoiled son on the carpet for his marijuana misadventures and threatens to fire him. Leo goes into a tantrum and pleads with her not to pink slip him. Nevertheless, the threat of being fired has little impact on him afterward because he is back to puffing pot on his delivery route in no time flat.

Meanwhile, a trio of cretinous bank robbers, Guch (Wood Harris of HBO’s “The Wire”), Brody (Mike Epps of “Resident Evil: Extinction”) and Hassie (Malik Barnhardt of “Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club”), sits around their dumpy apartment and play video games. Actually, Guch and Brody do the sitting while an oblivious Hassie sprawls out on a nearby couch. The filmmakers appeared to have modeled Hassie on the Brad Pitt slacker in “True Romance” who hung out on a sofa in his friend’s house. Recently, these low-lives attempted a bank hold-up that went hilarious awry for the silliest of excuses. Apparently, Guch told Brody to grab the loot after they entered the premises. Instead, Brody seized the video surveillance tapes. Now, they watch the bank tapes and reprimand Brody for his incompetence.

Guch and Brody reside in the same Philadelphia apartment complex near a Puerto Rican couple, Jesus (Cisco Reyes) and Chita (Yasmin Deliz), who are anxiously awaiting a shipment of ten bricks of cocaine from a Los Angeles-based, cigar-smoking drug smuggler, Bodega (Emilio Rivera), an hombre with no sense of humor. Boom and Cobbs show what happens to the thugs who try to take advantage of Bodega, and it isn’t a pretty sight. After Bodega punishes a hood from misconduct, he promotes Jesus to replace the dearly departed, and Jesus knows that his life isn’t worth a dime if anything untoward goes wrong through no fault of his own.

Naturally, Leo is getting high when he wheels in a giant box to the apartment complex and delivers it to Guch and Brody. Brody cannot believe his eyes, while Guch insists that God has answered their prayers. Brody contacts his drug pedaling cousin, Shavoo (Omari Hardwick of “Gridiron Gang”), and makes him a sales pitch. Initially, Shavoo doesn’t snap up Brody’s offer because he keeps a stash in a rental unit downtown, until he learns that somebody has stolen his narcotics from him. Shavoo decides to accommodate Brody, but he is suspicious about everybody since the burglars hit his rental unit. Meantime, Jesus phones Bodega and reports that the merchandise hasn’t arrived. Instantly, Bodega grows suspicious because he contacted Ms. Jackson’s company Next Day Air and received confirmation that the package arrived safely at its destination.

Bodega flies into Philly with his hard-faced henchman Rhino (Lobo Sebastian of “The Longest Yard”) who likes to get sadistic with Bodega’s enemies. Along with Bodega and Rhino, a desperate Jesus (Cisco Reyes) and Chita (Yasmin Deliz) set out to find Leo and clear up everything. They catch up with Leo, still inhaling pot even when he drives his delivery van and Leo realizes to his horror that he did in fact deliver the package to the wrong address. At this point, pandemonium erupts out as everybody converges on Guch’s apartment with guns drawn and itching to shoot first and ask questions later.

The best thing about “Next Day Air” is that director Boom doesn’t wear out his welcome. This movie clocks in at less than 90 minutes. On the other hand, this dud about a bunch of dimwits isn’t exactly a laugh-a-minute marathon. The finale consists of a hardcore, Quentin Tarantino-type gun battle at close quarters. Boom stages this uneven comedy as if he were aspiring to be a Guy Ritchie of “Snatch” fame. Unfortunately, the gunfire overshadows the guffaws. Next Day Air” has absolutely nothing to redeem it, and this Summit Entertainment release scrapes the bottom of the barrel for the modicum of humor that it has.