A gangster, Nino, is in the Cash Money Brothers, making a million dollars every week selling crack. A cop, Scotty, discovers that the only way to infiltrate the gang is to become a dealer himself.
New Jack City is convoluted, contrived, and heavy-handed, ending with a caption warning us to “confront the [drug] problem realistically, without empty slogans and promises”. Well, the characters in the movie certainly eschew empty slogans in favor of some of the most memorable catchphrases ever committed to film (“Sit your five-dollar ass down before I make change,” “I want to shoot you so bad, my d*ck's hard,” etc., etc.), but it might be a bit of a stretch to say that they deal with the problem realistically – and it’s actually the little things, such as our old friend the Red Digital Readout, that cast doubt over the proceedings; conversely, the elephant in the room – i.e., the taking over and conversion into a huge crack house of an entire apartment complex – is based on fact (the hardest things to believe are sometimes the most veridical; compare the upside down-flying commercial airplane in Flight). The script is sometimes platitudinous, sometimes downright nonsensical, but always, as I hinted above, endlessly entertaining and quotable. Similarly, the plot and is underdeveloped but not shallow, and the film overall has its heart in the right place. This is a vibrant movie, but it's not just for people who like bright colors; NJC knows the importance of looking beyond appearances. A scene of revelatory intertextuality has the antagonists watching Scarface and reaching the conclusion that the only thing Tony Montana ever did wrong was getting “careless.” And yet, this eye-opening irony is inexplicably lost on rappers like Lil Wayne and Tyga (both of whom have referred to themselves as ‘Young Nino’; don't they remember or care that Nino Brown at one point literally uses a little girl as a human shield?), making them twice as dumb as the people who watch Scarface and leave with the impression that Tony Montana is a role model. All things considered, NJC is a rather uneven effort whose weaker moments get by on sheer style, reaching a noirish state where what is said and done takes a backseat to how it is said and how it is done – and in that sense Wesley Snipes’s star-making performance (and what should have been a breakthrough role for Chris Rock), supported by a rock-solid (as well as eclectic, ranging from Judd Nelson to Bill Cobbs, who even then was playing the Old Man) ensemble cast and Mario Van Peebles's confident direction, is the glue that holds the film together.