Movie Review: RZA goes Tarantino-ish for “Cut Throat City”

One moment of dialogue in “Cut Throat City,” the latest thriller from the rapper-turned-director RZA pops out as “improvised” or “added by the director on the set.”

It’s a mockery of that “over the top Tarantino s—,” with the punchline being that QT uses the N-word entirely too much.

As much as one is inclined to agree with that assessment, hearing it in a dawdling four-friends-pull-a-heist picture by RZA, billed here as “The RZA,” is hilarious. “Game knows game,” as the saying goes. And whatever perfectly passable action sequences The RZA (“Love Beats Rhymes”) puts over here, it’s the poseur about him that puts him on Tarantino’s level.

Dude’s got to be the most pretentious movie maker making movies today. Proof? Look at how he got two hours out of what should have and certainly could have been a lean, tight 75 minute thriller.

“Cut Throat City” was scripted by Paul Cuschieri, and it has all these sermons, history lessons and life lectures tucked into it, florid turns of phrase that are catnip to “name” actors.

Who gets to make these speeches? Isaiah Washington, playing an erudite undertaker, intoning about his “respectable business” in between elaborate puffs of cigarette smoke.

Ethan Hawke shows up an a settled, monied (ex cop) politician inclined to explain the way things are in His New Orleans. Then his character, in turn, is schooled in an anecdote about the famous pirate Jean LaFitte.

T.I., as gang leader Cousin, gets the “Do y’all know ‘Katrina’ means ‘purification?'” hurricane history lesson, explaining the real estate implications of the emptying out of The Ninth Ward — “accelerated gentrification,” he calls it.

And Terrence Howard as The Saint, boss of bosses, talks about his Old New Orleans family history, and launches into a sermon about these young men in front of him, “born out of wedlock,” statistically unlikely to “graduate high school.”

Only Wesley Snipes, as the estranged father of aspiring graphic novel artist Blink (Shameik Moore of “Dope”), gets away without sounding like a screenwriter’s wet dream windbag.

“You got trouble boy?”

Snipes always was of the Clint Eastwood school — show it, don’t talk us to death about it.

Blink, Andre (Denzel Whitaker), Miracle (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) and Junior (Keann Johnson) are lifelong pals who survived Katrina only to be stuck in a gutted city with no chance of getting by without FEMA help. And FEMA? It doesn’t want to hear about the black, working poor Ninth Ward.

That’s how they come up with the idea of knocking over one of the city’s casinos. That’s how they get permission and help from Cousin.

And the heist? It’s a mess. Somebody dies, something about the police response reeks. The stolen chips and cash figures that turn up in the media are grossly exaggerated. Cousin doesn’t want to hear about the guy who died. He’s Mr. “Where’s my MF’ing money?”

Blink’s wife (Kat Graham) sums Cousin up, and right to his face.

“We’re knee-deep in gasoline, you’re killing people over matches.”

“Cut Throat City,” which takes its name from a comic Blink wants to publish, unfolds by the numbers and unravels in all the expected ways, complete with obligatory strip club scenes.

There is zero urgency to the “get away,” even less to the threats that pile up after that first heist. Because you know they’ll have to pull another just to cover for the first.

And every so often, as the cop (Eiza González) works her way through the city, hunting for her perps, there’s a pause for a lecture, lesson, sermon or pontification.

So even though RZA makes GREAT use of the city and delivers a movie rich with local color and atmosphere, even though characters make relevant points about poverty, exploitation and corruption from the locals all the way up to the Feds, even though he rounded up a good cast, “Cut Throat City” never gets on its feet and on the move.

It’s static, an action picture that becomes a still-life right before our eyes.

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, pervasive language, drug content, some sexual material and nudity)

Cast: Shameik Moore, Demetrius Shipp Jr., Denzel Whitaker, Keann Johnson, Eiza González, T.I., Wesley Snipes, Isaiah Washington, Ethan Hawke and Terrence Howard.

Credits: Directed by RZA, script by Paul Cuschieri. A Well Go Entertainment release.

Running time: 2:03

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