For the culture reviews: Paid in Full
Welcome friends to the beginning of a very lit series, For the Culture series. The rules? We'll be revisiting good black movies that white critics said were trash simply because they're not lit. No seriously, they are not equipped with the "powa of da blek pantha" to properly critique and review our movies. And look, don't get me wrong here it's not totally heir fault. Blame the magazines and outlets that hire their old white journalists and critics over the POC that were overlooked or not hired yet. Yeah, I'm on dirt.
First up on our list, Paid in Full, a hood classic. Real nigga cinema at its finest bro. The movie follows the come up of dry cleaner worker Ace (Wood Harris) in 1980's Harlem, right in the middle of the crack-cocaine era. Drug dealers and pressure to conform to the streets surround Ace; his sister's boyfriend, Calvin (Kevin Carroll), seems to be top dog in the game and won't let you forget it. On top of that, his closest homie Mitch (Mekhi Phifer), a flashy dope boy, is who ends up exposing Ace to the dope game after Ace finds a rock in a customer's dry cleaning. That customer, Lulu (Esai Morales) ends up becoming the plug, Mitch and Calvin end up getting arrested and that leaves Ace to inevitably run the game. The movie implies that Ace really had no choice in the matter, everywhere he went he was clowned for essentially doing the "right thing" and staying out of the game; I mean, when a cuban plug hands you a rock and says come back when you're done with that, what are ya gonna do?
While Mitch is locked up, he gets help by this wild nigga named Rico (Cam'Ron). I've said it before; I'll say it again. Any nigga named Rico is finna always do/say/be about some wild shit. Once Mitch gets out of jail he's shown by all love from Ace and the block. It's one of the many real and authentic moments that director, Charles Stone III and actor Mekhi Phifer brings the movie. Ace puts Mitch and Ace on in the game and everybody was eating. The movie does such a great job at foiling Ace and the other niggas he's surrounded by. Ace is levelheaded, humble, and smart. To Ace, it's chess not checkers, and that's why he ultimately comes out on top. Calvin just got out of jail and comes to Ace looking for work. Knowing that Calvin is hot right now, Ace sets him up with something little to start off with but Calvin dusty ass was a hater from the get go and wanted more. Rico enforces Ace's decision ultimately forcing Calvin to quit.
Ultimately Ace is shot and almost killed by Calvin and Rico takes vengeance killing the nigga in broad daylight and hitting a wheelie right after. While Ace recovers, he tells Mitch and Rico he's out the game and I feel it. Of course Rico nor Mitch agreed with the decision but Rico was a bit more vocal with his concerns with the iconic "niggas get shot everyday, b" line. Phifer honestly acts his ass off this entire movie explaining how ultimately, he can't quit. He loves the hustle and the game and THIS is where we see the true traits of all 3 main characters. It's brilliant. Mitch's little brother is kidnapped with a $500K ransom, which prompts Ace to give Mitch the rest of the kilos he had stashed up. The moment Rico's wild snake ass finds this out; he kills Mitch and steals the kilos. This leads to the death of Mitch's brother as well. Ace, knowing this is chess not checkers, figures this out and sets Rico up to get arrested, shit was wild g.
Paid in Full sits at a disappointing 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, Ebert & Roeper gave it a 2.5/4 and one of the critics from the L.A. Weekly said it was "lazily directed" by Charles Stone III. Again, these people can't connect or grasp on to the story because, for the most part, they can't relate. Just like the old white Academy members who were ready to pass on Get Out without even seeing the movie, these critics aren't equipped.
Stone snapped with the foiling of every drug dealer we're introduced to in the movie and just overall character development. The scenes where we see both Mitch & Ace deal with conflict and their meet ups with the plug were brilliant. We saw this for the first time in the opening act where Mitch goes "I gotta go to work" and we see the parallels between good ole Money Makin' Mitch and Ace. The performances we got from Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris, and even Cam'Ron were all very impressive.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is why the critics that reviewed the movie weren't properly equipped and just didn't get it. When Mitch pulled up in that new Benz, I felt that shit nigga! I felt all of his happiness and excessive need to stuntwhite people can't relate bro. Or Mitch's homecoming scene, that was black excellence at its finest y'all. My mans came home to a new whip, bread in his pockets and a spot at the top. Tell me you didn't feel that shit? Gone head and lie. Lastly, that scene in the car where Mitch breaks down in front of Ace about Sonny's kidnapping was ACTING my guy. Little known fact: Mekhi Phifer wrote that whole scene himself.
The overall story itself is solid, but THIS is probably its biggest flaw. I would have loved to see more moments where we see Ace coming into his own as a kingpin before Mitch and Rico's arrival. One critic even suggested that this should have been a love story that followed Ace and Keisha's (Regina Hall) relationship; I'm lowkey here for it. We got that iconic black love line, "I'm with you because I'm boring too. Now gimme that money." and it was gold! But all in all, Paid in Full is a Real nigga classic and For The Culture. I give it a solid 8/10.