Reviewed by Jason Coffman
Rating: 9 Beans
ometimes I watch MTV. Not very often, but sometimes. I've seen stylish music video directors move from MTV to the big screen with varying degrees of success. One of the biggest success stories is, of course, David Fincher (director of "Seven" and "The Game"). I'm always interested in seeing what a music video director's debut film will be like. I suppose I secretly hope that it will turn out like Fincher's films: visually arresting, and with intriguing storylines. Something more than the videos seen on MTV.
"Belly," the feature film debut of music video director Hype Williams, is a beautiful thing to look at. But watching the entire thing feels like a massive chore-- needless to say, it's not very good. Messy, violent, dark, and boring as all hell, "Belly" rarely works on any level.
A plot summary of this film is nearly impossible. An awful lot of things happen in "Belly," but it's never easy to string them together correctly. Rap stars DMX and Nas play Tommy Brown and Sincere, two old friends who live life on the street. Or something. Anyway, Tommy is heavily into the criminal underworld and has an amazing house and a woman he treats like crap. Sincere is, as his name would lead one to believe, a more pleasant character. He loves his girl, and lives in a modest little house.
The film follows these two around in various situations. The first ten minutes or so are really impressive, as Williams has Nas and DMX along with several others stalking through a pulsing nightclub scene while a spare, nearly accapella song plays. The effect is disquieting, and sets up things promisingly.
Williams then shows the audience how amazingly cool-looking it is to be involved with drugs and crime and to kill people. For about eighty minutes, characters show up and disappear seemingly without effect on the main action. Often, I was confused as to the motivation behind certain actions. This problem was not relieved by the dialogue. Some of the characters speak in language so cluttered with slang and twisted by accent that their dialogue is virtually impossible to understand.
In the film's last five minutes or so, we learn that all the things we have watched, and which were shot in a beautiful, artistic fashion, are bad. This incredibly contrived ending is only appropriate, however. Somehow, after sitting through the running length of "Belly," a positive ending of any kind seems like a cheat.
There are few redeeming qualities in "Belly:" one of them is Method Man, who is entertaining for the short time he is on the screen. The other is the amazing visuals-- if the film weren't so dull and plodding, it would be the ultimate triumph of style over substance. It really is an amazing film to look at. But watching "Belly" is like staring at a piece of carnival glass for a really long time: it's pretty and all, but when you're finished, you feel like there's certainly something better you could have been doing.
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