Rated R for strong violence, rape, drug content throughout, graphic sexuality, nudity and pervasive language.
Starring: Kerry Washington, Desmond Harrington, Ridge Canipe, Evan Ross
Writer/Director: Buddy Giovinazzo
Running Time: 99 minutes
Well, life certainly is hot in Cracktown. An ensemble drama taking place in an inner city ravaged by crackheads and drug dealers, Life is Hot in Cracktown tells the story from many different angles. Think of it as Love Actually…but replace the romance and comedy with rape and drugs. Yeah. That sounds about right.
There are a lot of stories going on at once, some that intertwine but not in any meaningful way, but here are the big ones: Manny (Victor Rasuk) works two jobs in order to provide for his wife (Shannyn Sossomon) and his young child, while also working on getting them out of the slums (well, it’s hinted it for a couple of seconds anyway). He works security as a tenement building where Willie (Ridge Canipe), a 12 year old boy, lives with his little sister Susie (Ariel Winter), his drug addicted mother (Illeana Douglas), and her crazy boyfriend Chas (Edoardo Ballerini). Willy and the family beg for money; the mother and Chas for drugs and Willy to help Susie out. He also has a crush on a hooker that lives nearby, and hangs out with the homeless Sizemore (Brandon Routh).
Meanwhile, MaryBeth (Kerry Washington) is addicted to drugs (obviously) and is dating/”married” to Benny (Desmond Harrington), a dim witted amateur thief. MaryBeth also happens to be a pre-op transsexual, which Benny struggles to deal with. It’s like that It’s Always Sunny storyline, but much more depressing.
Life is Hot in Cracktown starts off with Romeo and his gang taking turns raping a drug addicted teenager, then ending with one of them peeing on her. In short, this movie does not pull any punches. It showcases the gritty and the realistic, and there’s no glossing over. People get murdered, drugs ruin lives, I’m pretty sure there’s even a miscarriage thrown in there too. If you’ve got a weak stomach, then you probably don’t want to check this out.
The stories mentioned earlier are the main ones, but there are other characters strewn through out and that becomes a problem. With so much going on, it’s hard to keep track and things will just happen out of the blue (Romeo, even though he’s evil, apparently also has a girlfriend but you don’t find that out until it’s almost over when she becomes important).
For what it’s worth though, the stories are pretty effective, and lead to some good performances. I particularly enjoyed (okay wrong word for a movie this dark) the relationship between Benny and MaryBeth. Transsexuals show up from time to time in films, but this one you actually get to know MaryBeth and the whole relationship with Benny is intriguing. Kerry Washington and Desmond Harrington are completely believable and are the standouts of the entire movie. Benny loves MaryBeth, but he’s also got the side of him that is disgusted that she is actually a he, and that (along with MaryBeth’s drug addiction) provide the tension between the two. Willy’s storyline is also pretty good and the little scenes he has with Susie (panhandling to get her some food, distracting her from their squalor) are touching.
Romeo’s story, though, is just vicious and he’s just an evil person doing evil things, be it rape (as you read earlier) or beating up an old man at his apartment to steal his money. They try to tack in some sympathetic points to his character (his brother got shot, his mom is sick, his girlfriend appears out of thin air), but all in all he is generally unlikeable. Brandon Routh attempts to try something new, playing a homeless drug addict that hangs with Willy, but it isn’t very successful. He doesn’t bring anything different or anything believable to the role, but I appreciate his attempts and hope that sometime he’ll get the chance to show everyone he isn’t just Clark Kent. Life is Hot in Cracktown isn’t it though.
Life is Hot in Cracktown is an interesting movie; it’s bleak and it pulls no punches, but there are too many stories and characters thrown in to give any significant time to develop. The acting is pretty good, Washington and Harrington especially, but the writing is a little suspect and it ends too abruptly to be satisfying…or even that effective. It’s still not a horrible movie though, and if you’re into over the top bleakness, then you might like this. Or, you know, watch Traffic.