a critiQal film review Empire (2002)

Plot: Victor Rosa (Leguizamo) is a big time drug dealer. Along with two other dealers, he controls the Bronx. All three of them get their supply from one lady, La Columbiana (Rosellini). He’s got a girl, Carmen (Cotto), who’s recently become pregnant, and his life is going pretty good. After a mix-up with another dealer goes bad, he decides it’s time to get out.

582 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 54s)
  • ...not up there with the best of the gangster dramas.

I’d seen the trailer for this film a while back, and it looked pretty decent. While John Leguizamo has been good (Romeo + Juliet) and bad (Spawn (1997)), it looked like a decent role for him, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Turned out to be only okay.

Leguizamo definitely can act, as he’s shown in the past, but sometimes he gets miscast, or he just picks a lousy film, and things go horribly wrong.

Empire is a good choice for him. He gets to play a street tough, with a heart. It’s slightly reminiscent of his role in Romeo + Juliet, which he excelled in. He definitely leaped headfirst into the role. When he’s happy, his joy is an almost palpable thing, while when he’s angry, you don’t really want to be in his way.

Fat Joe, a new rapper on the scene the past few years, also gets a chance to show a little bit of acting. He definitely hasn’t had the experience Leguizamo has, and luckily isn’t in a lot of the scenes.

Denise Richards goes once more into her well of seductive, slightly evil women, and could probably have done the role in her sleep…and it shows, not for the best.

Peter Sarsgaard, fresh off of K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), plays his upper class character to a T, bringing it off with perfection. He only loses it near the end, and it makes you wonder if the settings are what enhance his character, rather then his acting ability.

The plot of Empire was a good one, but it did take a while in the building stage. Setting up Rosa’s day to day life is an important part in showing how much he changes throughout the film, but it seemed to be a bit overdone. Plus, with all the setup they did, you would expect that to come more into play later in the film, and that thread just seems to fall by the wayside. The movie seems a bit lopsided in that way.

They spend so much time on the buildup, that when the investments start, Empire seems to rush it along a bit, as if it were an afterthought. I think the major problem is that the film tries two stories at the same time, and doesn’t do either as much justice as it deserves.

The gunplay, which is expected, has some nice twists, especially Fat Joe’s arsenal of weapons available at a touch of a button on his couch. The other fight scenes are okay, with the beating at the beginning probably the worst. They try to shoot it from a different camera angle, and it just doesn’t look realistic. The look of seeming boredom on the face of the guy getting beat up probably doesn’t help it any, either.

This is truly one of those films where the trailer gives away too much. If you weren’t expecting some of the twists and turns (since they were given away in the trailer), it would have added a lot to Empire. That, plus the two different storylines seeming at war as to which one is the important one, pull the film from really good to only okay.

Not up there with the best of the gangster dramas, but certainly not one of the worst, either. If you liked Goodfellas, Empire is a decent choice to kill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

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