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Empire (R)
Universal Pictures / Arenas Entertainment
Official Site
Director: Franc. Reyes
Producers: Daniel Bigel, Michael Mailer
Written by: Franc. Reyes
Cast: John Leguizamo, Denise Richards, Peter Sarsgaard, Sonia Braga, Isabella Rossellini

Rating: out of 5

Sometimes you walk out of a movie and you feel like your life will be changed forever. Sometimes, as you leave, all you want to do is knock out the guy who sold you the ticket, because he knew how bad the movie was, but didn’t warn you. And then, there’s Empire, the movie that inevitably leads to the reaction, “Okay, so… it’s over? Anyone up for Sizzler?”

From the opening credits, Victor Rosa (Leguizamo) invites us to view his world, or just New York City, through his eyes, voice, and experience. We trek through the South Bronx, meeting the crew and learning the turf where self-professed “street pharmacists” fill their respective scrips. The cinematography and editing are intriguing at first, flashing translucent shots of guys like Rockefeller and Bill Gates, Victor’s rich heroes.

Leguizamo, surprisingly, does a reasonable job portraying this protector of children, doting boyfriend, and homicidal heroin dealer pedaling his own specific cut, known on the streets as “Empire.” But even in the beginning, he sees the pitfalls of this lifestyle through the untimely murder of his big brother.

At an upscale Manhattan apartment party, Vic’s girl, Carmen (Cotto) introduces him to her college classmate, Trish (Richardson). The party is hosted by Trish’s super-yuppie boyfriend, Jack Wimmer (Sarsgaard), an overtly successful investment banker in Manhattan. As Vic begins his nearly instant transformation from ghetto to Gucci, he looks to Jack as his mentor and messiah. He regards Jack as beyond reproach, and when Jack promises ungodly returns on large investments, Victor takes the bait. It’s only when additional investors are brought in that the trouble truly begins. Victor’s character cannot seem to escape his past or outrun his future.

Empire lacks the focus and drive to be a very compelling movie. First-time writer-director Franc Reyes’ debut into the world of feature film fails to connect with the audience. Though the casting is excellent and the acting is good, too many times we are left clueless about the characters’ motivations, which can easily be attributed to the several gaping holes in the screenplay.

Guess what. In the end, the hustler gets hustled. Crime don’t pay, my friend. Duly noted.

—Michelle Fajkus and Eric Thorlin


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

It’s worth a full-price ticket.

It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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