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RUNNING TIME:126 minutes
- “Making Of” Featurette
- “I Am the King of Paper Chasin'” Commercial
- Audio Commentary by La Monte Edwards, Dwayne “D.L.” Clarke and Brett Albright
A more sociopathic Hustle and Flow with a little bit of an Urban Scarface vibe. Hustle and Blow?
Dwayne “D.L.” Clark, Jason Rivera, J. Steven Williams, Lauren Hooper, Piarry Oriol, Jeseph Somma, Al Thompson. Directed by La Monte Edwards.
Carter “Carte” Blanche (Clark) is a coke dealer, underground rapper and all around upper class thug. As he slowly starts shifting his business more into the music production side of things, he’s faced with an insane F.B.I. Agent, a snitch girlfriend, shady record labels and his own ego. When his old friend, Uglyman (Williams), gets out of prison (the pen) and starts dragging him back down a dark road, Carte has to balance his desire to make beats with his need to rule the streets. I rap, too.
I am not the target demographic for King Of Paper Chasin’, which is fine. I’m comfortable traveling over demographic lines. As a 30 year old white guy who’s lived in Northern California and then Oregon for his whole life, I sometimes feel like I’m supposed to like Jack Johnson or The Dave Matthews Band, when actually my tastes have always leaned into underground and some mainstream hip-hop. I would rather listen to The Roots or The Blue Scholars instead of Coldplay or Linkin Park any day. A few years back my friends and I had an underground hip-hop radio show called Monkeys With Sticks where every week we would have freestyle sessions and DJ’s spinning live sets. I may not be urban or black, but hip-hop speaks to me more than any other music ever has or ever will. Saying that, I feel like King of Paper Chasin’ celebrates all the worst aspects of hip-hop culture, while glossing over or even wholesale ignoring the things that make it so vital and immediate.
When we first meet Carte Blanche he’s sitting in a car with his friends Uglyman and Sage, getting ready to jack a rich guy and his girlfriend. When Uglyman (played with furious bravado by J. Steven Williams) murders the guy they’re robbing, Carte is forced to execute the girlfriend, as well. We jump forward seven years and Sage is in a wheelchair, Uglyman is just getting out of prison (the joint) and Carte Blanche is celebrating some notoriety as one of the biggest mix tape rappers in NYC. Even though he’s doing really well on the music side of things, he’s still a hustler and a thug, dealing coke and robbing street vendors of the little bit of money that they have. He doesn’t do it because he needs the money, but because it’s his obsession. He wants to die with the most toys and the world be damned. He’s not dealing in order to escape poverty and make a better life for himself, he’s already done that; He’s dealing because he’s a sociopath whose morals begin and end on whether there’s money to be made. Never once in the film does he ever mention the woman he murders at the beginning. He made some money, so it’s forgotten.
The biggest problem I have with King Of Paper Chasin’ is the character of Carte Blanche (you know what a better MC name would have been? Chase Manhattan! You’re welcome). When we first see him after the seven year jump, he’s donating money to some kids’ basketball team, as if that’s supposed to endear him to us, even though two minutes earlier we saw him shooting a screaming lady in the head. He fucks his girlfriend awake and then tells her to go clean the kitchen and, when she talks back to him, he pins her to the wall by her throat until she acts subservient enough to please him. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good anti-hero every now and again, or even just a super villainous central character, but where I start having problems is when the filmmakers try and make me think that he’s a complex guy just playing the hand he’s dealt. Carte Blanche has more than enough money to quit dealing and is constantly being courted by a record company who wants to give him a fairly huge signing bonus, but he refuses all of the record companies advances, unless, of course, they’ll give him his own record label to run. His ego is Tony Montana sized, but I always felt like we were supposed to be horrified by Tony in the final hour of Scarface, as opposed to actively rooting for him to destroy as many lives as possible on his rise to the top.
They’re constantly surrounding Carte with characters more violent and repugnant than he is, almost as if to say, “But look, at least he’s not as bad as this guy.” It doesn’t work like that. Just because he murdered someone over money instead of murdering them for fun doesn’t make him any less nihilistic and evil. I constantly felt like this film was trying to sell me on the idea of Carte Blanche as an anti-hero, without ever giving me a glimpse into his mind to see where his obsession with the paper chase comes from. We don’t know if he battled poverty as a child or whether he grew up in the suburbs of Long Island and, because of that, there’s not enough there to allow the audience to create an informed opinion about the character, other than to base it off the horrible things we see him do in the present.
None of my problems with the film, however, stem from Dwayne “D.L.” Clark’s electric performance as Carte. If it wasn’t for his work, the film would have seemed much longer than it’s already punishing 126 minute running time. I don’t know how versatile he is, though, since I read that big chunks of this story are supposed to be autobiographical. Clark does have undeniable presence, it’s just too bad he didn’t have a better vehicle to be allowed to really flex his muscles. I hope he gets some higher profile work since I’d rather watch another D.L. movie than more family bullshit by Ice Cube.
Then we get to the hip-hop aspect of this movie. D.L. has a good flow and sounds a little like Jay Z during his Reasonable Doubt era; He’s not quite as verbally dexterous but his pacing and rhyme schemes make for some interesting music. But we never understand Carte’s relationship with hip-hop. We never see him write a song or even hear him talk about his love for the music. As far as this film shows us, Hip-hop is just another way for for him to chase the paper and I fucking hate that. Hip-hop is a lifestyle and a mindset and anyone who is using it only as a means to make some cheddar is missing the point completely, like I feel this movie does. Yes, when you’re living in Bed-Stuy and selling rocks to keep the lights on, then hip-hop is the yellow brick road that might lead you out of the ghetto, but when you write that first piece, it has to come from not being able to keep the words inside anymore, not as a marketing tool to get yourself on MTV. Carte has no love for hip-hop other than the fur coats it allows him to wear and the status it gives him on the street. If he does, then this film failed to convey that on any level, whatsoever.
This movie is ultimately pointless and, worst of all, boring. The camera is stationary so much it felt like the filmmakers must have hit up a sale on tripods. The only time the film ever feels alive is during the stock footage of NYC or when they’re actually outside on location. Everything shot indoors is so airless and nondescript that I found myself falling asleep every 15 minutes and dreaming of a much better film. I don’t know if shooting this with a little more flash (Hype Williams style) would have improved the film any, but it at least would have made it pleasant to look at.
It’s all just so stagnant. Carte isn’t pursuing rap so he can get out of the drug game. He wants to do both and from the first minute to the last, he does. He has no arc as a character nor any redeeming qualities that make us want to go along for the ride with him, other than to watch him go down, but we never feel like there’s really any danger of that happening, since everyone he comes into contact with is written to be far inferior to him, intellectually. He’s a puppet master whose only goal is to keep being a puppet master, so he just keeps doing what he’s doing as literally everyone around him is hurt and destroyed and his big, climactic, character defining moment is that he barely notices. Who wants to watch that?
This movie didn’t even teach me how to be a better paper chaser. I can still barely stumble after it. The only things it succeeds at are having a very strong lead performance and setting back hip-hop movies by five or ten years. This makes Belly 2 look like a classic in comparison and Belly 2 made shit look like brown candy. The only thing King Of Paper Chasin’ is king of is improper spelling and boredom and, if it wants those crowns, then it’s welcome to them.
There’s a commentary on the disc where the star and director go into their motivations for making the film and what they hope an audience takes out of it. They both come across as very intelligent guys who were out to make a movie that showed a side of the NYC gangster culture that no one had ever seen and I feel like, if maybe D.L. had taken his idea to a different filmmaker, then we might have gotten a better movie out of the whole ordeal. There’s also a featurette, a trailer and a commercial with a bunch of people on the NYC streets (including Ice-T) saying how they’re the king of paper chasin’. And then I shot myself in the face.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars