Mini Film Review: 'Next Day Air'

Friday, May 8, 2009

Director Benny Boom's flimsy comedy "Next Day Air" features almost a dozen main characters, all tied together by a single misdirected package of cocaine. The movie is fascinated by the mechanics of drug distribution, but, like its pot-addled protagonists, is easily distracted.

Fans of "The Wire" will giggle to see Wood Harris, the actor who played that show's menacing Avon Barksdale, here portraying a jittery, fast-talking hood named Guch. He is memorably described by his partner, Brody (Mike Epps), as the kind of cheapskate "who drives a stolen car for two years and says it's his." When a doofus deliveryman (Donald Faison) accidentally delivers cocaine to Guch and Brody instead of to their drug-dealing neighbors, the two small-timers can't believe their good luck. "God sent this!" marvels Brody.

But it wasn't God; it was a brutal California drug lord (Emilio Rivera) who's soon threatening his underlings with imminent death if they don't track down the shipment. As its appealing cast spreads across Philadelphia, "Next Day Air" settles into a heavy-lidded comic groove. But it screeches to a halt once all its characters come together in a gruesome, overcrowded final showdown that leaves few standing at the end.

"Next Day Air" does feature one spectacular scene of focused mayhem, when Brody's cousin Shavoo (the intense and funny Omari Hardwick) discovers that his thousands of dollars have been swiped. Pity the poor would-be thief who foolishly sells Shavoo the rope and duct tape he'll later see put to use.

I wondered what Mos Def was doing in this movie, playing Faison's co-worker; he's charming but little-used, as is Debbie Allen, whose single appearance as the delivery company's owner made me wish her agent could get her better work. Speaking of wishes, I wished "Next Day Air" were funnier. In the end, it's a fitfully amusing, sloppy comedy that doesn't work very hard for your 10 bucks. It's a hustle that befits a movie in which one character berates another: "You're in America! Steal something!"

-- Dan Kois

Next Day Air R, 90 minutes Contains pervasive language, drug content, violence and brief sexuality. Area theaters.

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