Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Vondie Curtis Hall
Stars: Tim Roth, Tupac Shakur, Thandie Newton, Vondie Curtis Hall, Tom Towles, Charles Fleischer, Howard Hesseman, John Sayles, James Pickens jr, Eric Payne
Running Time: 86 minutes.
An original and occasionally disturbing take on the decay and urban malaise gripping America, Gridlock’d is a sharp black comedy that effectively satirises the excesses of a bureaucracy gone mad. Actor turned director, Vondie Curtis Hall (recently seen in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet) brings a kinetic energy to this contemporary comedy/drama exploring the frantic efforts of two hardened drug addicts trying to kick the habit. Full of profane humour and bleak ironies, Gridlock’d is also somewhat uncomfortable viewing at times because of its casual use of violence and confronting scenes of drug use.
When their friend Cookie (Thandie Newton, from Flirting, etc) lapses into a coma following a drug overdose on New Year’s Eve, Spoon (the late rapper Tupac Shakur, in one of his final roles) and Stretch (Tim Roth) decide that they will also slip the habit. But their attempts to enter a detox program and get help meet with obstruction and frustrating delays from an unwieldy bureaucracy. There is plenty of chaotic running around from one end of the city to the other, a bizarre comedy of errors created by the inertia and inflexibility of an overworked welfare system driven by unnecessary red tape and countless rules and regulations. The pair find that the experience of trying to kick the habit is almost frustrating enough to drive them back onto drugs again.
To make matters worse, they find themselves pursued by local drug lord D-Reper (played by the director himself), and suspected of murder by the cops. They are largely victims of their own circumstances who have brought all this grief and frustration upon themselves, but yet audiences begin to feel a measure of empathy with their desperate plight.
For a first time director, Hall displays a strong command of cinematic technique, suffusing the material with visual flourishes and giving it a distinctive style that enhances its absurdist mood. Stewart Copeland’s evocative score also adds to the atmosphere of the film. Hall also knows how to get the best out of his cast and draws a pair of energetic and wonderfully comic performances from his two leads. The always brilliant Roth delivers another of his wonderful performances, and he manages to look suitably down cast, disheveled and seedy for his role. Shakur has a commanding screen presence delivering a quite natural and unforced performance, but the knowledge of his untimely and violent death hauntingly overshadows the film, creating a savage but unintended irony. While Roth manages to project a suitably seedy and sickly demeanour, Shakur looks far too healthy and in control to be totally convincing, and audiences are conscious that the pair have far too much energy and native intelligence for a couple of supposedly wasted drug addicts.
Hall populates the film with some wonderful cameos, from Charles Fleischer (best known as the voice of Roger Rabbit) to fellow director John Sayles playing a hard nosed, street wise cop, and Howard Hesseman as a blind war veteran who expresses his frustration with the system in a strange fashion. Gridlock’d is often grim and down beat, but Hall brings a hip energy and humour to the material, and he uses locations within Detroit, a city with which he is intimately familiar, to perfectly portray this harsh and potentially lethal environment.