Opened: Wednesday, February 12, 1997 | Rated: R
Here's the scene: A drug deal has gone bad. Some whimpering pimp-daddy doesn't have the money he owes the kingpin. Everyone has large caliber weapons. The whimpering guy's brother is in the scene, offering cheap poignancy.
The shoot-out begins. There's a lot of slow motion machine gun fire set to a rap song about how horrible violence is, edited by someone who has watched too much MTV.
It has become the most shopworn cliché in Hollywood's take on urban America. But this time it's not America, and that's New Line Cinema's excuse for dredging up these recycled images.
They may have been used memorably in "New Jack City," "Sugar Hill," and "Boyz in the 'Hood," but in "Dangerous Ground" they're just heaped on willy-nilly.
This time the drug dealer is a leach on the freedoms of the new South Africa -- taking advantage of the changing political winds -- but nearly everything else in the film looks at least as much like Compton as Johannesburg.
"Dangerous Ground" stars the perpetually brooding Ice Cube as a South African insurgent who was spirited away to America in his teens to save him from persecution and has returned for his father's funeral.
Directed by Darrell James Roodt, who has spent a lot of time being insightful about South Africa in "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "Sarafina!," this outing shows more his junk store Hollywood side he revealed in "Father Hood," a cutesy criminal/family man movie with Patrick Swayze.
After a few scenes emphasizing dissolution with his family's tribal traditions (he refuses to sacrifice a cow), Vusi (Cube) is persuaded by his mother to search for his missing brother Steven (Eric "Waku" Miyeni), who has submerged into the Johannesburg drug culture.
Setting up shop in an upscale hotel, he scours underground nightclubs and comes across Steven's slutty striper girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley, in a serious departure from her role as spokesface for Estee Lauder), who is one of those recent Hollywood phenomenon -- a healthy, gorgeous, glamourpuss crack addict.
Together they discover Steven owes some huge amount of money to Muki (Ving Rhames), Jo-burg's biggest, baddest dealer.
Rhames, who is usually infallible even in bad movies like "Striptease," makes a fool of himself here, playing Muki as one part Marsalis (his star-making tough from "Pulp Fiction") and one part Kojak (he's bald and forever sucking on a pickled chicken's foot as if were a lollipop).
The rest of "Dangerous Ground" consists mostly of gun-play mixed with throw-away insights into brotherhood, racism and oppression.
The movie is unnecessarily narrated by Vusi, with each voice-over describing the previous scene without adding any perspective ("Man, Steven was in over his head. But so was the country."). It is also full of minor holes that snowball and nearly consume the movie:
If he's come for his father's funeral, why is his father already buried when he arrives? When the final gun battle starts in the drug kingpin's penthouse, how is it that Hurley makes it from the car in the alley to the 17th floor in two minutes -- using the stairs?
"Dangerous Ground" cumulates with Vusi impaling the kingpin on the tribal spear his father willed to him. What a tender moment.