About three-quarters of the way through Waist Deep, the hero of the piece -- an indestructible ex-convict who calls himself O2 (2 Fast 2 Furious star Tyrese Gibson) -- peers out through the swirling smoke and the bloody mayhem of an urban killing ground and experiences a revelation. "Somethin' ain't right," he observes. It's just about the truest moment we get in a movie where so many things ain't right that it's hard to keep up the count. Between its ridiculous lapses in dramatic logic and its ever-shifting attitudes toward men, women, and murder, this has to be one of the sloppiest crime thrillers ever to reach the screen. It's as if the co-writers -- Vondie Curtis Hall (who also directed) and Darin Scott -- knocked out their drafts on separate planets, then e-mailed them to a 9-year-old for rewrite.
Aside from its annoying array of extreme close-ups -- full-frame shots of the characters' mouths, noses, and eyes -- Waist Deep's primary conceit is the claim that it's a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde, the kind of socially and sexually charged cops-and-robbers story in which the romantic fugitives win the hearts of the public and the enmity of the authorities before going out in a blaze of glory. The alleged stand-ins here are O2, whose son, Junior, has been kidnapped in a street-gang carjacking, and a sullen but sizzling Los Angeles streetwalker named Coco (Meagan Good), who's on the gangstas' payroll. Supposedly thrown together by mutual need, they go on a 24-hour crime spree to raise money for the boy's $100,000 ransom and Coco's emancipation from the Life, while a series of hip-hop hits blast away on the soundtrack. Apparently, it occurs to neither of these inadvertent felons that shaking down the hideouts and robbing the safe deposit boxes of two rival street gangs might get them into some serious trouble. Or that ransom payments may be completely beside the point. They also don't seem to grasp that stealing a cache of jewels from one of the kingpins -- a one-eyed villain called Big Meat (played by rapper The Game) -- then trying to sell his own merch right back to him a few hours later, via an intermediary, may not be the wisest career choice in the world. This guy's specialty, after all, is chopping arms off disloyal underlings. But then, this is a movie in which the tough-guy hero can slam the heroine -- whom he doesn't know very well yet -- up against a wall and not 30 seconds later punch another guy's lights out with the warning: "Don't ever put your hands on a woman."
Bonnie and Clyde? In case we don't get the idea, a convenience-store clerk who encounters the daring couple late in their run marvels at their TV-induced notoriety: "You're the new Bonnie and Clyde. How about an autograph?"
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How about a dose of consistency? Like dozens of action movies before it, Waist Deep makes a halfhearted pass at social responsibility with a couple of speeches about the curse of street drugs, the scourge of violent gangs, and the failure of city authorities to look out for the "homeland security" of its own citizens. In later scenes, however, it can't help fawning over the fruits of crime in the 'hood: Despite what may be good intentions, these filmmakers present the huge black Hummers and the flashy Rolexes of the bad guys, their piles of cash, and their awesome heavy artillery, like the items on a wish list, or full-page ads in a glossy magazine. O2 may be righteous in his revenge and pure in his love for his son, and Coco may have the perfect booty, but it's Big Meat who owns all the stuff people covet. What we have here is a tacit endorsement of greedy gangsta life, vaguely disguised within a morality play.
But then, other contradictions run rampant, too. How do a well-publicized woman from South Los Angeles who says she's never even seen the Sunset Strip, and an 8-year-old boy -- both traveling in a stolen car -- manage to cross into Mexico? How does an ex-convict just a few weeks out of San Quentin land a job as a pistol-packing security guard? Who would figure that a lone fugitive surrounded by 20 police cars and two helicopters can simply hit the gas and drive, unimpeded, off the end of a dock? Are we really to believe that O2 and Coco can pull off three loud, screaming bank robberies in one afternoon, all in the same city, without seeing a cop or suffering a scratch? As Bonnie and Clyde could tell you, somethin' ain't right.