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 customer’s
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 ’80s 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