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Paid In Full (R)
Dimension Films
Official Site
Director: Charles Stone
Producers: Jesse Berdinka, Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Lisa Niedenthal, Brett Ratner, Ron Rotholz
Written by: Azie Faison Jr. & Austin Phillips and Matthew Cirulnick and Thulani Davis
Cast: Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer, Camíron, Chi McBride, Esai Morales, Elise Neal

Rating: out of 5

Paid In Full is a predictable rags to riches tale set in Harlem during that heyday of cocaine and excess that was the 1980s. The protagonist Ace (Harris) provides a view of thug life as the film follows his rise from laundry delivery boy to drug kingpin. The charismatic homeboy (Phifer) and violent thug Rico (Cam'ron) make up the posse.

The movie starts with Ace working hard at his legit job while others score quick cash and easy women dealing cocaine. It is inevitable that Ace be sucked into this lifestyle, but it is coincidence not greed or ambition that force him down the dark path. He happens to find some cocaine in a customerís pockets and then happens to be standing in the right or wrong place with the aforementioned drugs when a junkie mistakes him for dealer. In a series of convenient happenstances he is propelled to king of the hood. The three main characters are lesser versions of the main characters in Goodfellas. Rico is Joe Pesci, a mindless violent thug. Mekhi Pfifer is Robert De Niro, a professional who loves the life and could think of nothing else. Ace is Ray Liotta, an everyday Joe who provides us with insight into a different world. Ace is especially interesting because he seems to lack the† traits needed to be a drug lord. He is friendly, non-violent, and quiet. This facade never cracks to reveal a person who will do whatever is necessary to get the job done, leaving room for doubt as to how he got the job in the first place.

The problem is lack of conflict or character shift. No dramatic gang war precedes Ace's taking over the Harlem streets. His character never has a Michael Corleone-style turning point, where he is forced to irrevocably leave the straight and narrow path. Most of his ascension is handled through unsatisfactory voiceovers. The rest of the movie suffers from similar missing details. It covers the easy money, fast women, and player lifestyle all well enough, but never once makes mention of the legions of people who are being turned into soulless drug addicts. Also the application of violence as a necessary tool of the trade is hardly touched upon. Ace only gets in one physical confrontation and it is clearly in his own defense. If this movie were anything to go by, the drug racket is a harmless industry no more dangerous than, say, selling soap.

Interesting to note: The cast of the movie was entirely black with the only exception being the Colombian drug connection. This and other stylistic elements help the movie avoid the question, "How did things get this way?" and instead simply covers how things are, and from the street that may be all that matters. The extensive use of what one can only assume is í80s Harlem slang makes some dialogue difficult to understand and all too often the movie resorts to voiceovers when it could be displaying the action on screen. Just an underwhelming experience. See Menace II Society or Goodfellas instead.

óWoodrow Bogucki


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