Movie Title: Before I Self Destruct (2009) ***
Before I Self Destruct was written and directed by 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson). The should-be-hyphenated title of the movie is shared as it is also the title of the rapper's newly released album. The plot is about the life of Clarence, an inner city youth whose dreams of becoming a basketball star have been shattered by an injury sustained while playing. Taking up a job working at a local supermarket, times have been tough. They only get tougher when his mother is killed by stray gunfire.
After the death of his mother, the family facing eviction, Clarence takes up work as a killer for hire to support his younger brother Shocka (Elijah Williams), a young and intellectually gifted boy whom Clarence loves and becomes the sole provider for. Shocka has nothing to worry about as long as the cash keeps coming. He will get the life he deserves. It’s Clarence who has a lot to worry about. Of extreme importance is that he makes sure that his young, innocent brother doesn’t find out where the money is coming from. Of even greater importance is that he stays one step ahead of the law and doesn’t get caught. Clarence doesn’t seem too terribly concerned with the latter, neither does law enforcement, but maybe it’s just because he’s so damn good at what he does.
Before I Self Destruct is your typical struggle-to-survive portrayal of life in the inner city. With it comes the lesson of how bad choices will bring bad consequences and how those bad consequences will extend to people we know and love. But rap music and “hood” movies with rap-based themes have the common distinction of glorifying the ghetto lifestyle of drugs, guns, and gangs, while at the same time, gingerly justifying it out of desperation and need.
Every movie ever made about the lifestyle seems to be saying: “Enjoy the coolness of shooting and killing people, but there will be consequences, so don’t do it in real life.” Jackson’s work could be said to put more emphasis on the latter (thankfully) while providing the up-keep for entertainment. It is not the message of 50 Cent’s latest work that has issues, but the delivery of it.
We have ninety minutes of a thin story, with strikingly scripted lines, and mostly stilted acting. Jackson pulls off the person of Clarence, and Williams as an aspiring and innocent black prodigy ready to grow and claim his place in the world, but poor acting on the part of certain supporting cast members and an overcast sense of predictable never leaves the set.
Before I Self Destruct deals with conversations on themes like murder and theft without the characters ever coping with the emotional weight that the subjects carry. Casual conversations can involve subjects like cheese and messy murders with no meaningful distinctions. This affects not merely the characters, but the script. The fundamental flaw is in the writing.
You never quite feel for Clarence because he is so easily catapulted into doing heinous deeds that make the world a bad place. His tough circumstances don’t sufficiently serve to diminish his actions, and they must in order for the movie to work. You would feel for Shocka were it not for his being created to epitomize the role of the poor, unfortunate black boy who can do it all, if only he has someone to look out for him.
The movie does have its pluses, like effectively executed action sequences, a well-choreographed shower love-making scene, and pacing that in only a few places is not consistently fast. Although very few, there are some funny discourses to lighten the mood, and they work. One takes place in a bar as two men talk about a girl they are watching play pool: “I wanna tie that bitch up in my basement and donkey-fuck her for two weeks straight.” That little tidbit has the nice quality of being disturbing and shockingly comical at the same time.
Before I Self Destruct may not cut it as a workable street drama, but it doesn’t exactly fail either. As an independent film and as the work of a rapper icon, it stands to be counted and will definitely have its share of fans.
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Director: Curtis Jackson
Summary: An inner city youth struggles to provide for his younger brother after his mother is killed.
Starring: 50 Cent “Clarence (as Curtis Jackson),” Clifton Powell “Sean,” Elijah Williams “Shocka,” Gabriel Ellis “Rafael,” Anthony 'Treach' Criss “Cedrick”