**½/**** Image C Sound B Extras C
starring Ron Beaco Lee, Bizzy Bone, Alexis Fields, Anna Maria Horsford
written and directed by Timothy Wayne Folsome
by Walter Chaw Courageous and extremely well performed, Timothy Wayne Folsome's zero-budget Jacked Up demonstrates a rare and surprising willingness to explore the moral consequences of a moment's rash misadventure on victim and family alike. It is, in that sense, as unusual and compelling as Roger Michell's brilliant Changing Lanes, even if the route that it takes to get to its revelations are circuitous at best and overly familiar at worst. Jacked Up is a showcase for a young filmmaker's potential (otherwise missing from Folsome's debut of a couple of years ago, An Uninvited Guest), but it also exposes Folsome as a bad visual stylist and a limited scenarist who depends too much upon the path most travelled. Good thing there are lots of flowers of interesting bouquet to sniff along the way.
Dre (RonReaco Lee) is a good kid who falls in with a bad crowd, an affiliation that one fateful night results in the murder of an innocent man. As it becomes clear that he's gotten away with it, conscience weighs heavily on our inner-city Raskolnikov until he's driven to first confess to his victim's family, then turn himself in to the authorities. Dre becomes the mentor of the dead man's young son, a boy trembling on the verge of delinquency; coaxes the young daughter out of her mousy shell; and allows the widow (Anna Maria Horsford) a dignified "out" for her shameful occupation post-murder.
Moments of extremely poignant social insight pepper Jacked Up's exchanges, such as the notion of economic ceilings for achievement, and a demonstration of stringent social caste systems and the clique acceptability of criminal activity--as clearly delineated as the family ritual of The Godfather. Much of the dialogue rings with a vernacular truth sprung from a good ear and perhaps a healthy measure of improvisation, but what surprises the most is the uniform excellence of the performances. The ensemble cast, a selection of unknowns and rap artists, transcends the film's clichés and choppier moments for the most part, with Lee in particular turning in what would otherwise be a star-making performance in a higher-profile picture.
The problems of Jacked Up begin with a decided amateurishness in visual style (not owing to budget restrictions) and end with an infatuation with its own hedonism. The sex-and-drugs lifestyle of an original gangsta does little to advance the film, serving instead to drag the picture into unkind comparisons to the direct-to-video hack jobs with which it will inevitably be compared. Jacked Up's greatest crime, then, is in not knowing that its strength lies in the moments when it's not trying to fulfill some expected notion of structure. The picture is a missed opportunity that scores now and again in ways edifying and wholly unexpected--a diamond in the rough that points to better things for Lee and Folsome.
Artisan's DVD presentation of Jacked Up features a 1.78:1, anamorphically-enhanced widescreen transfer that preserves the film's original aspect ratio and along with it the almost complete lack of production values. The picture looks awful, though the fact that most of the film was shot on location in some of the roughest neighbourhoods around the D.C. area goes a way towards explaining the rougher edges. A Dolby 2.0 surround mix provides minimal thrills if adequate separation and clarity. What the track does manage to do is serve as a rounded platform for Jacked Up's terrific hip-hop and rap soundtrack. The disc jacket indicates that there is a soundtrack CD available for this picture released through "Image Farm/The Label" that might be well worth seeking out: the song selections and their usage are better here than in most of the film's mainstream counterparts.
The showcase of this disc is an audio commentary by hyphenate Folsome and producer Kevin D. Hightower that, sadly, doesn't offer much beyond the occasional location anecdote ("We had to hire extra security here--the locals didn't like us shooting there") and what seems like total amazement at the performances from their cast of unknowns. Although largely free of much insight, the yakker is admirably bereft of barren spots, and the rapport between the two is genuine and comfortable. Cast and crew filmographies, a trailer, a photo gallery, and a short (and typically obsequious) featurette round out the DVD. Originally published: August 15, 2002.
96 minutes; R; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English Dolby Surround; CC; DVD-5; Region One; Artisan