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By Brad Laidman | October 3, 2001

“Boyz ‘N’ the Hood” had Ice Cube in it, but Dr. Dre kicks his beats all over the druggy hypnotized world of Deep Cover. I remember seeing the trailers for this movie and thinking it was just some low budget thing a studio had in the can for a while and thought it could toss out in the wake of Laurence Fishburne’s success in the aforementioned Singleton picture. Sort of the same thing they did with “Bachelor Party” after Tom Hanks hit it big in Splash. That may still be true, but Bill Duke’s movie is every bit as wicked as it’s hit soundtrack. Deep Cover wants to get credit for being a sensitive statement about the state of drug addled Black America, and it does pack some sentiment, but that never stops it from cashing in on the fantasy world of the big time high rolling drug dealer and the warped personalities that surround it.
Laurence Fishburne haunts this movie with his deep set fiercely intense glaring eyes. He plays Russell Stevens Jr., a uniformed cop, who was lucky enough to see his junky father shot dead while robbing a liquor store. Charles Martin Smith, that geeky guy from American Graffiti, deliriously chews much scenery as a smug DEA agent who likes to pretend he’s god. He informs Fishburne that although he makes an average cop his psychological profile indicates that he’d be an all star criminal. Fishburne isn’t crazy about confronting the seedy world of his father, which he has steadfastly avoided his entire life, but convinced that he can do some good he goes on 24-7 duty as John Hull pretending to be a drug dealer. His goal is to eventually work his way up the drug pyramid and bust someone big.
He moves himself into a typical slum and sets up shop. His next door neighbor is even a crack w***e who offers to sell him her kid for $3,000. Early on in his quest, he brings back more Cocaine than the DEA cares to pay for. So Smith nonchalantly tells him “You’re a drug dealer. Sell drugs.” When a huge rival dealer with a Terminator fixation kills one of Fishburne’s assistants, he is forced to actually kill the guy, but not before the hopped up psycho disrespectfully urinates all over him. His first big step up the totem pole is a creepy yuppie lawyer/dealer played by Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum has a hot wife and nice little girl, but secretly shags Black women and yearns to make enough money to finance a high tech designer drug scheme. When Fishburne kills for him, Goldblum makes him a partner.
Clarence Williams III gets to hang around the periphery as the moral center who makes Fishburne feel like the scum he’s pretending to be, but once the money starts rolling in Fishburne gets to start living the high life of a successful dealer, picks up a cocaine snorting high class girlfriend, and starts to crack under the pressure and the ambiguity of his mission. Things get ugly fast to the point where a betrayed Fishburne wonders if maybe he’d really be better off if he were a drug dealer, his abstinent lifestyle goes down the drain, and he goes vigilante never quite sure whether he’s going to die, go to jail, or be given a medal. The ending is probably a bit too tidy but it’s clever and unfolds in pretty entertaining fashion. I love when the good guy not only redeems himself, but screws over his boss and waltzes away with a bunch of drug money.
Deep Cover has an atmospheric gritty and poetic Jazzy vibe and does a pretty nice job of tracing the nightmare drug wasteland from the pathetic desolate users all the way up the chain to the warring factions of foreign policy and the anti drug effort. Mario Van Peebles probably would have knocked off a few guys himself to make New Jack City half this good, and yet for some reason Bill Duke felt the need to follow it up with Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. An optimist would try to say that he discovered Lauryn Hill, others might posit that he just screwed up.

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