(Movie Review by James D. Bass) There is a proverb going back to the philosophers of the Roman Empire that loosely states, “In war, there are no winners.” There is currently a war being waged in America in both a literal and figurative sense, where the generals have been replaced by rapacious music industry moguls and the soldiers have taken form as the fans and icons currently riding the wave of hip-hop culture and rap music. In the movie “Nemesis”, we get a frightening peek into the heart of the beast that is turning out today’s heroes resplendent in “bling”, setting fashion trends by popularizing social excess and eccentricities, and maintaining the “street” politics and attitudes perfected in the U.S. metropolitan cities currently overrun with gangs and poverty. It’s a bleak world where “more” is more, jealousy is just, and respect and fear are words that have lost their individual meanings to the language of the gun.
Young Nate (played by DJ Nealy) grew up on the streets. Both inspired and repulsed by the antiquated traditions of his father (André L. Gainey), Nate grows up donning the persona of his alter ego “Nemesis”. He gains fame from the talent he has displayed all of his life, but never received appropriate respect for because of a lack of street credibility due to his unwillingness to participate in gangland black-on-black crime. Nemesis is both an enemy of himself, as well as his longtime friend, fellow rap artist Razor Ric (Marlon “Messiah” Taylor).
Both men are swept into a conspiracy manipulated by Jason (Bechir Sylvain), an African American music executive and his partner-in-crime Stan (Jeremy Mitchell, sharing screen time and writing/producing credits), who are as stereotypical as expected. Once Nem can achieve his “street cred” by acting on his “true nature” and engage in the hatred supposedly requested and expected by the fans, it’s a fair assumption that the exposure will catapult the rapper into the pantheon of “gangsta” heroes, both alive and dead. However, not surprising is the numerous “friends” that are more than willing to step up in order to realize their opportunity to betray their “peeps” and “pop a cap” for popularity.
Taking place in Dade County, Florida, known by it’s area code “305”, the movie weaves a startling tapestry of music and images that standing alone would make extremely entertaining music videos. And while the constant barrage of changing tunes (such as the Nemesis hit “Soldier”) and fast visual cuts does detract at times from allowing the story to unfold, there is a well crafted concept underneath the “Def Jams” and flashing gold and jewels. However, a story needs to be told and “Nemesis” never reveals enough to take the viewer in.
An up-and-coming talent (which this film has in the majority of it’s cast and crew), director/writer/producer Lee Cipolla utilizes the production mantra of “less is more” and allows the audience to draw a number of the deeper elements from only minimal cues. However, although the script certainly maintains the richness and urban credibility that it is attempting to laud, it never takes enough time when given the opportunity to allow us to spend some needed intimate moments with the characters. As such there is a general feeling of distance that becomes an insurmountable gap by the film’s end, where a wise story concept never becomes more than predictable plot points of light in a dark sky.
Like it’s central character, “Nemesis” has tremendous potential as evidenced by the amount of work accomplished with its limited budget. However, it is satisfying enough to have been given a view of the hip-hop culture that is widely misunderstood. Don’t expect to walk away with any new insights, but don’t be surprised if some of the music stays wit’ you.
Lee Cipolla (director) / Lee Cipolla(screenplay)
CAST: Sheaun Mckinney … Nemesis
Marlon Taylor … Razor Ric
Suzie Abromeit …. Pearl
Bechir Sylvain … Jason
Jeremy Mitchell … Stan
Tamara McGill … Michelle
Rob Goodman … Ben
Find more info on “Nemesis” at its official site here.