Netflixable? “All Day and a Night” just seems that long

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You think you know Jeffrey Wright, character actor extraordinaire.

Yeah, he’s James Bond’s cynical, wry CIA intermediary Felix Leiter. He plays the guy who runs “Westworld” — a real technocrat.

Cops, scientists, government officials, family men, men in suits. Even when he’s a Caribbean money launderer (“The Laundromat”) there’s almost always a polish, an educated intelligence to go along with the sense of “cunning” implied when you cast him.

“AmhertsbMan.”

But if you follow him on twitter (@jfreewright) you get a hint of the other personas he can call on. He’s worth the follow just to read him reading the OG, streetwise riot act to racists, Hollywood haters and their ilk.

That Jeffrey Wright, on steroids, is who we get in “All Day and a Night,” an Oakland saga about generations passing their fury, grievances, criminal shortcuts, violence and the prison time that comes with that down, father to son to grandson.

The film, starring Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) as a rapper wannabe, hustler/mob-soldier in training, doesn’t show us much that we haven’t seen before. Maybe a little more back-story, a few extra pieces in the “motivation/how we got here” puzzle, all set to a sing-along gangsta rap (mostly) soundtrack. It’s depressingly over-familiar, or at least generic.

But Jeffrey Wright is scalding hot as the father to the young hood in a hoodie. He is TD, as in OG — a junkie/dealer who thinks beating his boy toughens him up for life as a black man in Oakland.

“It’s dog eat MAN out there,” he growls to his wife (Kelly Jenrette, who goes toe to toe, cheek to nose with him).

“By the time I was six, my Daddy’d been in jail nine times.”

A double-homicide and its consequences (trial and prison) frame this story. Jahkor (Sanders) shows “no remorse at all” in court after killing Malcolm (Stephen Barrington) and his wife in front of their little girl.

This is right after Malcolm thinks he might be able to talk his way out of this.

“We folks, right?”

The grim tale of how they got to that moment starts 13 years earlier, with Jahkor (Jalyn Hall) getting manhandled by an older teen — robbed — and then beaten by his father for letting it happen.

The cycle of revenge begins here. The lessons — that there’s safety in numbers, your “boys” have your back, and to never let any slight, insult or grievous wrong slide — are learned.

Jahkor grows up as a petty thief, disinterested in school, an only child his mother cannot control and his drug-addicted father is rarely around to raise. No, prison visits don’t count.

Jahkor and his “cuddy” (Bay Area “homie”) TQ (Isaiah John from TV’s “Snowfall”) stay thick as thieves, and harbor dreams of hip hop glory. “Jah” is transitioning from singing along to others’ raps with his girlfriend, Shantaye (Shakira Ja’nai Paye) in his Sentra, to cutting tracks. TQ is doing the recording.

Shantaye’s pregnancy has him deciding to straighten up altogether and find a legit job. He has a rap sheet — school suspensions for violence were just the start. But working in a mall athletic shoe store just exposes him to racial profiling by the white customers.

Targeting a mouthy suburban white teenage girl who talks a “gangsta” game, following her home to suburbia rob her and her beau with TQ, just gets them pulled over — “profiling” that uh, works? It prevented a robbery, even if there’s no arguing that her kind of “white people annoy the s— out of me.”

Even if the white cop crosses a line, noting the kid’s father, asking “Is it genetic?”

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Writer-director Joe Robert Cole (one of the screenwriters of “Black Panther”) never lets the picture drift into “Hustle & Flow” — all about the hip hop. But the persistence of it on the soundtrack, Jah’s rhymes and the rhymes he, his friends and his girl sing along to, point to an association.

Rappers are passing along destructive rules of behavior from one generation to the next.

Prison is where ALL the generations connect, “whole neighborhoods” of “family” imprisoned together. And that’s where Jah spends the most time with his now-grizzled, longtime convict dad.

Cole gives us undeveloped hints of “another path” Jah might have followed, a relative who goes into the the military, of a grandmother who related more to his throw-up-her-hands teacher than his hotheaded mother (who storms out of a parent-teacher conference).

But what he focuses on is the crime and the gang rift that led to it.

If you’re not accustomed to the slang and patois used here, don’t be proud. Turn on the closed-captioning. That’s where Cole’s script shines, in the dialogue — an argument dismissed with “MISS me that s—!” You take a gang job or take a stance in the prison yard, than means, like a basketball center, you stand your ground — “post up.”

A gang leader, Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has a brother he’s been leaning on.

“He upstate (imprisoned). I’m shorthanded. Marinate on that.”

Stunna is a foodie. I s— you not.

There’s a lot going on here, some of it good, some of clutter, too much of it voice-over narration, turning that lazy screenwriting device into annoying background noise.

Which is to say, “All Day and a Night” plays too long at two hours, but this being Netflix, we should be grateful they didn’t mini-series it.

Unless that meant more Jeffrey Wright.2stars1

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug use and some sexual content/nudity

Cast: Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Isaiah John, Shakira Ja’nai Paye and Kelly Jenrette

Credits: Written and directed by Joe Robert Cole. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:21

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1 Response to Netflixable? “All Day and a Night” just seems that long

  1. Daniel Myatt says:

    Okay review. Not an Okay film. If you’ve seen “Boys in the ‘Hood,” “Menace to Society,” “South Central” or “Baby Boy,” you’ve seen it all before — only done better. Ashton Sanders is a terribly one-note actor whose inability to carry the lead role convincingly dooms this uninspired retread. Doomed to the point wherein not even the usually stellar Jeffrey Wright can’t even salvage it and make it worthy, watchable. Wright, of course, always does his homework, and this round, he over-studied, phoning-in a performance that is ultimately uncompelling. What it lacks in verisimilitude, it makes up for in nuances and dialogue that amount to nothing. He and Sanders show no chemistry when onscreen together; both are in their private actor worlds, navigating something that ostensibly doesn’t concern the other.
    Sanders clearly needs more training; he’d greatly benefit from an improv comedy class, get a bit more range under his belt, learn to step out of himself. He is a much too self-conscious performer, and painfully so. Almost painful to watch in some scenes. Though that worked when he did it in “Moonlight,” here we fail to ever see him in his element, a place wherein he’s comfortable, relaxed, not tensed up. It don’t work. I wish he’d stop. However, if Hollywood keeps on casting him in such roles, wherein he gets away with doing that same thing in every film, he has no incentive to improve, reach, be daring onscreen, challenges himself to achieve new heights as a performer. Truth is, if he trusted it, knew how to more effectively work it, his strong presence could do so much of the heavy lifting for him.
    The writing here is atrocious; the heavy-handed, unnecessary voice-over throughout is distracting at best, annoying when it tries too hard, and too often, to be deep and profound. We required captions to understand most of the mumbled dialogue. If only someone had been available to explain to us why such dialogue was deemed desirable and not effectively lost during a final draft re-write. Heaven help us — it’s bad.
    Overall, the question is why. Why was this oft-told urban tale chosen to be told once again, when it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. This film is empty. It’s poorly shot, far too long, clichéd, and though not really predictable, it ain’t worthy of making an investment in any of its unlikable, one-dimensional characters. Though some were more interesting than others, no one truly shines in this misguided mess of a message movie. No one is allowed to. Thus, no one can.

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