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‘Deep Cover’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 17, 1992

 


Director:
Bill Duke
Cast:
Larry Fishburne;
Jeff Goldblum;
Victoria Dillard;
Charles Martin Smith;
Sidney Lassick;
Clarence Williams III;
Gregory Sierra
R
Under 17 restricted


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Remember "In the Ghetto," that Elvis Presley hit of 1969, in which the be-rhinestoned singer shed crocodile tears for the poor? It was so Vegas, so . . . Marie Antoinette.

Even though the movie "Deep Cover" is directed by a black man (Bill Duke) and stars a black man (Larry Fishburne), it's no less removed from the urban blight it pretends to know. A third-rate blaxploitation picture for the '90s, it aims to be street-tough and an admonishment against drugs. It manages to be neither. It's too awash with lame, street-movie cliches. There's violence in the poolroom, gang meetings at dockside, footage of crack addicts, the requisite rap soundtrack . . . It's been gunned before -- and so much better.

With "Boyz N the Hood," Fishburne broke through to the big time. Here, his acting career takes a step backwards. An undercover cop in Cincinnati, he poses as a drug dealer to infiltrate a drug cartel. He has to prove he's the real thing by actually selling coke and crack on the streets. At one point, he's even faced with having to kill someone. He joins criminal forces with unsuspecting, sleazy lawyer Jeff Goldblum, who has plans to start a designer drug empire of his own. Together, they climb the ranks presided over by mega drug lord Arthur Mendoza.

For Fishburne, each step closer to his target Mendoza is another step away from the good guys. He even starts to lose touch with his spymaster Charles Martin Smith. It gets harder to turn back.

Oddly enough, Goldblum's so wildly out of place in this misbegotten movie, he becomes its greatest asset. He's edgy and funny at the same time, a well-educated psychopath determined to kill -- and quip -- his way to hell. He may start talking with theatrical anguish continued on Page 44 from Page 42 about crack babies. Then, with that eye-widened, staccato delivery of his, he'll interrupt himself to say something outrageous. "So John," he says to Fishburne at one point, "what is the freakiest thing you ever did sexually?"

Later, after narrowly surviving a helter-skelter car chase with the police and witnessing a brutal fatality on the road, a breathless, exhilarated Goldblum says, "This is the greatest night of my life. Terrible but great."

"Deep Cover," mis-scripted by Michael Tolkin and Henry Bean, lays its moralizing like a cross on the back of good cop Clarence Williams III, who follows Fishburne around -- unaware that he's a narcotics officer. The next time Fishburne messes up, Williams warns with milquetoast toughness, "I'll be all over you like stink on doo-doo." He also hands Fishburne the Holy Book and advises him, "Don't forget who you are."

It's not enough to sell us this bare retreading of "New Jack City." They gotta throw in Jiminy Cricket too.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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