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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 Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

"For everybody -- everybody! -- money is what life is all about," Vic Rosa (John Leguizamo) lectures us in voice-over in one of his many pedantic sermons. Vic compares himself to entrepreneurs past and present, including John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates. Vic, a local heroin kingpin, is in charge of the drug dealing territory of the Bronx that he calls the Empire. The area is such a rich mother lode that just twenty disputed feet between it and the next gang's turf are worth twenty-thousand dollars a week in revenue.

EMPIRE, written and directed by Franc Reyes, comes out with its rhetorical guns blazing, as it takes on capitalism by suggesting that stock holders are the moral equivalent of drug dealers. I am not making this up. As Jack, a filthy rich investment banker puts it to Vic, "[Companies] have stock holders all over the world who are basically accessories in crime."

This educational show teaches us that drug lords are really regular guys at heart. Even big drug powwows are interrupted so that the guys can play video games with their sons. When the drug dealers do fight, they prove that they didn't learn much from the video games. Rather than hiding, they stand up like statues as their big guns blow each others' brains out.

The bad news about EMPIRE is that it isn't a parody. It appears to believe all of its twisted economic theories, making the movie feel like it was made by some old Bolsheviks, who, in a vodka stupor, thought they were remaking THE GODFATHER. Leguizamo (MOULIN ROUGE's Toulouse Lautrec) is a fine actor who deserves something better than EMPIRE as his first high profile starring role.

EMPIRE runs 1:30. It is rated R for "strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and some sexuality" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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