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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Empire

Starring: John Leguizamo, Denise Richards
Director: Franc Reyes
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: December 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Sonia Braga, Isabella Rossellini

Review by Susan Granger
1½ stars out of 4

This urban gangster thriller is the first production from Arenas Entertainment, a division of Universal Pictures aimed at a Latino audience. The intention is admirable, but the execution is disappointing. And it's not the fault of John Leguizamo plays Victor Rosa, a cocky South Bronx drug dealer who pushes a powerful heroin mix called Empire. He's strutting after one last big score so he can go legit. So, one night, when his girlfriend Carmen (Delilah Cotto) takes him to a Manhattan party, hosted by a sleazy investment banker Jack Wimmer (Peter Sarsgaard), Victor makes a connection. He and Jack form a fateful partnership. Victor starts giving fast-talking Jack all his drug money and Jack, in turn, pours the cash into high-return stock investments. Soon Victor is hooked into the heady Wall Street world of high finance and moves with now-pregnant Carmen into a SoHo loft. But when he abandons his turf in the 'hood, predictably, things go awry.

Problem is: first-time writer/director Franc. Reyes confuses narrative with narration. Narrative is what propels a movie; narration is that voice-over explanation that's used far too often here. And banal clichés are no substitute for dialogue. On the other hand, Reyes has made some interesting casting choices, including Isabella Rossellini as intimidating "La Columbiana" who heads the Colombian drug cartel, Nestor Serrano as her hitman brother, Denise Richards as Carmen's college chum, hip-hop star Treach as one of Vic's crew, rapper Fat Joe as a rival street pusher with a Play Station-obsessed son, and Sonia Braga as Carmen's mother. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Empire" is a formulaic 4, asserting that there's little difference between common crooks and cut-throat corporate businessmen in their greed for money.

Copyright © 2002 Susan Granger

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