[Screen It]

"NEXT DAY AIR"
(2009) (Donald Faison, Mike Epps) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: When a stoned deliveryman drops off a package of cocaine at the wrong apartment, that sets off a sequence of unexpected events as the recipients try to sell the drugs for quick cash.
PLOT:
Brody (MIKE EPPS) and Guch (WOOD HARRIS) are roommates and two-bit criminals who are fairly inept at their chosen profession, having recently botched a bank robbery with their friend Hassie (MALIK BARNHARDT) who's now crashing at their Philly apartment. Things look up, however, when stoned deliveryman Leo (DONALD FAISON) -- under pressure from his boss/mom to perform better like his coworker, Eric (MOS DEF) -- delivers a package to them that's actually addressed to the couple across the hall, Jesus (CISCO REYES) and his girlfriend Chita (YASMIN DELIZ).

Jesus is a low level drug dealer working for Bodega (EMILIO RIVERA), and is anxiously awaiting the shipment of ten bricks of cocaine, knowing full well the potential wrath of the drug kingpin and his right-hand man, Rhino (LOBO SEBASTIAN), should anything go wrong.

For Brody and Guch, the unexpected delivery is a like a gift from Heaven. Realizing the cash potential of their new possession, Brody calls his drug dealer cousin, Shavoo (OMARI HARDWICK), to see if he's interested in buying that. Arriving with his right-hand man, known only as "Buddy" (DARIUS McCRARY), Shavoo agrees to return in two hours with a satchel of money to complete the transaction.

But things quickly become complicated when he learns someone his stolen his stash of cash, while Bodega isn't happy to hear that Jesus apparently doesn't have the shipment. With the latter figuring Leo must have stolen it, he and Chita set out to find him and the drugs, all of which sets the stage for a big showdown at the end.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
I always liked the rumor from my childhood that anything that appeared in your mailbox was legally yours, regardless of whether you requested it or not. The mind always reeled about the possibilities of what would essentially be a free gift with no strings attached. Alas, that never occurred.

I have no idea if that was or still is a real fact or just an urban legend, but with sophisticated tracking I'm guessing the postal service -- or in the case of private delivery companies leaving things at your door -- would come knocking, wanting whatever it is back.

For lowlife hoods Brody (Mike Epps) and Guch (Wood Harris), such a mistaken delivery has gotten them into dreaming as if they were big ticket lottery winners. But their unexpected windfall comes with strings attached, not only in terms of how they have to cash in the ten bricks of cocaine, but also in regards to the "rightful" owners who will obviously come looking for it.

Such is the setup for "Next Day Air," an action-based comedy that's trying to follow in the footsteps of the sort of films that made director Guy Ritchie so popular among certain viewers. He's the filmmaker behind the likes of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch" and most recently, "RocknRolla," where real and would-be criminals get tangled up in a complex and interwoven plot of greed, betrayal and double-crossing.

Filled with directorial flourishes, clever dialogue, hip soundtracks and lots of flashbacks and such, the offerings took non-linear storytelling and big ensemble casts in new, fun and entertaining directions. Not surprisingly, they spawned copycat and imitators that have worked -- or not -- to varying degrees of success. While Ritchie has made them appear effortless, they're obviously harder to conceive and execute than many might imagine, and this offering is a clear case in point.

Working from a script by Blair Cobbs (marking his big screen debut, and it shows), director Benny Boom (ditto and ditto) seemingly has all of the proper ingredients in place. There are real and wannabe gangsters, fools, opportunists, and not a single character you'd want to expose to your kids. Throw in the mistakenly delivered cocaine and three groups of people who want it back from the new owners, along with the standard array of flashbacks, cheeky humor and unexpected and/or brutal violence, and the stage would seem to be set for a rich, Ritchie-like experience.

Alas, the thing simply doesn't work. Beyond not being a terribly flattering representation of certain minority groups and notwithstanding all of the criminal behavior and other bad 'tudes, the entire offering feels forced and contrived, while the humor plays down to the lowest common denominator of the urban dweller, the most likely viewer who might have some sort of passing interest in this.

While there is a smattering of such moments, for the most part the characters and the dialogue (referring to that which manages to squeeze itself to the surface amidst the nearly nonstop profanity) aren't hip enough to be fun and/or engaging, and we ultimately don't care about anyone for good or bad. And that's mainly because it's ugly down to its core, both in its racial stereotypes and sexist/misogynistic attitude. I realize it's not meant to be taken seriously, and that certain types of viewers will love it, but the flick is undeniably an unpleasant experience.

If anything, the film will make one long for Ritchie's far superior work, no matter how redundant and repetitive much of it has become. At least his shows smarts and creativity, where this one comes off as nothing more than a poseur, a cinematic gangsta rather than real gangster. Should this film somehow end up in your presence without your request, do not open it. Instead, write "bad film -- return to sender" and put it back in the mail so that you don't waste 90-some minutes of your life watching it fail. "Next Day Air" rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed May 5, 2009 / Posted May 8, 2009


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