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Gridlock'd (1997)
Rated R

Starring: Tupac Shakur, Tim Roth, and Thandie Newton

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Watching Tupac Shakur, the gangsta rapper who was murdered in 1996, play an addict who decides its time to quit drugs is kind of unsettling. Why? Because Shakur gives one hell of a performance as the addict in question. It makes one wish Shakur would have stayed away from the influences of his rap lifestyle and concentrated on his acting career. Watching him play a musician who lets drugs and bad influences ruin his life is too close to the mark of reality. That's not to say that Gridlock'd is a hard movie to watch. In fact, it's actually very entertaining and enjoyable.

Shakur plays Spoon, a bass player who lives with two other musicians. There's Stretch (Tim Roth), a piano-playing gangster wannabe, and Cookie (Thandie Newton), a healthy living singer who's been given some heroin by a record producer and is anxious to try it just to see what it's like. On New Year's Eve, Cookie accidently overdoses and Spoon and Stretch try to get her to the hospital. They don't have a car, so they try to hail a cab. Apparently, two men with a unconscious woman don't make for appealing taxi customers. They call an ambulance but, after a long wait, they decide to take her to the hospital on foot. Once they get to the emergency room, they are told that Cookie can't see a doctor until they fill out a bunch of forms. The emergency room nurse, played with extreme bitchiness by Elizabeth Peña, takes Spoon's impatience personally and tears up his forms, saying that the girl can die for all she cares. Finally, Spoon grabs a doctor, who immediately gets Cookie to a room.

Following that, Spoon decides he's quitting drugs. He's going to "kick" and he asks Stretch to do it with him. Stretch reluctantly agrees, and the pair set off in search of a rehab program. What they find is more red tape, forms to be filled out, and bureaucracy. It also gets them into more trouble with a local drug lord.

The script, written by Chicago Hope star Vondie Curtis Hall, is good. It's much better than I'd expected for a movie with this type of subject matter. The dialogue is full of great character interaction, humorous situations and biting commentary about the way government handles the lower classes. Even with the backdrop of a grimy Detroit drug community, the movie still serves up a fair amount of laughs. The only problem, though, is that only Spoon's character really gets fleshed out. Some stereotypical menacing drug dealers and stupid cops hurt the film's realism, but add to the humorous side of the film. However, the humor that's the best is simply the banter between Spoon and Stretch. As in Kevin Smith's films, like Clerks and Chasing Amy, the profanity-laced dialogue speaks volumes about the friendship of the two characters. They can talk about anything with each other and do so.

If you are looking for a film that is comparable to Pulp Fiction in terms of it's gritty, yet humorous, situations and somewhat akin to Trainspotting for its depiction of the drug lifestyle, check out Gridlock'd. It's well worth renting for Tupac Shakur's performance alone. Vondie Curtis Hall's script is just the icing on the cake.

Trivia: Charles Fleischer, who played the voice of Roger Rabbit in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, plays Mr. Woodson. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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