Dead Presidents 
DVD Drama
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Wednesday, 20 May 1998

Dead Presidents

Hollywood Pictures Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, N'Bushe Wright
release year: 1997
film rating: Three stars
sound/picture: Three stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

'Dead Presidents' is nothing if not ambitious. A combination heist drama, war movie and domestic tragedy, it packs an impressive range and variety of events into a running time just under two hours. The film is fast-paced and has visual pizzazz, but in trying to pack so many events and genres into a single storyline, directors Allen & Albert Hughes and screenwriter Michael Henry Brown (who all collaborated on the story together) wind up sacrificing emotional involvement.

The film starts off in the mid-60s, when Bronx high-schooler Anthony Curtis (Larenz Tate) is a good son at home but involved in running errands for local neighborhood tough guy Kirby (Keith David). Although his folks expect him to go to college, Anthony joins the Marines. As part of an elite reconnaissance unit, he is plunged into the chaotic violence of the Vietnam War. When Anthony comes back to "the world" after four years, he finds his old girlfriend Juanita (N'Bushe Wright) waiting with their four-year-old daughter. The job situation is not welcoming, however, and crime seems an ever-more tempting option. Finally, Anthony and some of his fellow war vets from the 'hood decide to rob an armored car filled with used U.S. currency--"dead presidents" in street parlance--utilizing the expertise they picked up during their combat days.

This last leads to the most striking sequence in 'Dead Presidents,' the robbery in Chapter 15, which features shrewd editing and an explosion that is impressive, prolonged and aurally multi-layered. Even if the symbolism of having Anthony and his comrades (all but one African-American) paint their faces skeleton white before committing the crime is a bit muddled, it is arresting to look at and makes great narrative sense. (Why hassle with the visibility and texture problems of hiding under a mask when a little makeup conceals just as well?) A wartime firefight in Chapter 8 is also jolting and Chapter 18 has a shot that drives home the meaning of "trapped."

'Dead Presidents' is well-crafted and sharply executed, but the filmmakers try too hard for a sense of tragic inevitability. The performances are all strong, with Tate, David, Chris Tucker and Bokeem Woodbine. However, while not exactly shallow, the characters as written tend toward the familiar. As we become increasingly aware of the points being made, it becomes easier to anticipate the events that will happen to make those points. The action segments are brilliant, but the sequences between them, intended to draw us into the tale, serve instead to keep us at a slight distance, leaving us interested but not quite engaged.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
special features: French Language Track/Stereo, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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