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Once again, I could rip a flick to shreds for what's in it. But I won't.
From the gunfire and bloodshed that begin Set It Off to the gunfire and bloodshed that (just about) end it, this film tries hard to mix a gritty urban feel with the camaraderie that marks true friendship. For the most part it succeeds.
The four women who are forced by circumstance into a life as bank robbers pretty much fill a range of stereotypes. We start with Frankie (Vivica Fox), who has almost clawed her way out of the projects as a bank teller when she gets fired without (good) reason. A trio of her friends works scrubbing floors for a janitorial service owned by a loudmouth named Luthor. There's Cleo (Queen Latifah), a hard drinking, dope smoking lesbian ex-car thief who gets more of a turn-on from firing semi-automatic weaponry than any of the previously listed activities. There's Tisean (Kimberly Elise), known as Tee-Tee, a single mother who can't pay a baby sitter to look after her baby, and almost loses him to the Child Protective Service.
Rounding off the group is Stoney (Jada Pinkett), who works hoping to put a younger brother through college. She will lose what she loves and find herself with even more to lose when she falls into a romance with the manager of one of her targets. The agreement the women make, to rob a bank only once, is quickly broken. My telling you so will not spoil the flick, because there is enough built into the story to keep it interesting.
The events that force the women into a life of crime are not convoluted or unbelievable, but they do occur with the kind of coincidence you will only see on a movie screen. That, combined with additionally stereotyped cops, could kill this thing from the start. Does it matter? For the most part, no, because the creators seem aware of what is necessary to build more than a two dimensional character.
What makes Set It Off succeed is a terrific sense of humor built into and around the women. Queen Latifah's Cleo is as much comic relief as she is maniacal gun toter. Vivica Fox's Frankie turns her anger against the banks that symbolize her former employers and, when necessary, against her friends.
Indeed, in the pre-title sequence, several of the film's robbery scenes and a completely out of left field film parody are terrifically put together by director F. Gary Gray. This is Gray's second film after a very successful career helming music videos. It shows. The weakness of Set It Off is that it feels, at times, like a number of videos strung together. It feels longer than its two hour running time. I saw much of the end telegraphed about two thirds of the way through, but I see way too many movies. You may not have the problem. The success of Gray's work is that, even having a good sense of what was coming, I was not disappointed when it did.
Let us not forget Blair Underwood, who plays the bank manager that Stoney falls for. Poor Blair. His performance doesn't hold a candle to the furnishings of his house. You have to see it to disbelieve it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Set It Off, he would have paid . . .
Yes, there are points where you will want to throw popcorn at the screen, 'cuz at the points that are not great, Set It Off is terrible. But, overall, it ain't a bad movie.
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