John Leguizamo is an enigma. Here is a good-looking man with good acting skills and who is well known; he is also one of the few Latinos that has really made a name for himself. Nevertheless, with exception to a few movies thrown in here and there, his career is filled with a lot of crap. Whatever works, works, but think if he actually started doing quality movies on a regular basis? What would that be like?
If you are unclear as to whether my introduction is suggesting that I liked Empire or not, let me get it out there: I did not like Empire. It wasn't absolutely terrible, but I don't think I could ever bring myself to watch it again.
Empire, believe it or not, can most easily be called a drama, for it has narration from our main character Victor (Leguizamo). Why is this so important? Well, from the sounds of the narration at the beginning of the movie, Empire is about how a major drug dealer in the Bronx decides that he wants to get out of the business, since his girlfriend is pregnant. And Empire is a drama; unfortunately, it is a very bland, poorly-done drama that would have worked much better as a thriller or action movie.
No, I'm not just looking for a bunch of gun-blazing scenes, but let's face facts: This is director Franc Reyes' first movie; he's not exactly going to make a Latino version of The Godfather anytime soon, even though it is obvious he wants to (he makes a reference to that much better film). I'm all for a good Latino drama, but without the screenplay or the direction to back it up, one might as well cut his losses. Furthermore, the plot completely suggests a more action-oriented film; a drug dealer wants to get out, so he starts investing millions with a white banker (Peter Sarsgaard). To strike a really good deal, the dealer borrows money from his rich drug connection, but then the banker screws him and steals the money.
So, Empire is not a very good drama for a variety of reasons, namely that the plot isn't all that indicative of a pure gangster drama, and also that the direction is just lousy. At times, Reyes throws in a bunch of slower music to make his scenes more powerful, but the whole soundtrack seems out of place, and jumbled; there are also about four other forms of music included as well. The direction just seemed very amateurish, although that isn't too surprising since Reyes had never directed a movie before (I would guess music videos).
Unfortunately, Empire, as anything but a drama, doesn't work anyway. I liked the plot of this rather kind drug dealer getting screwed with a telephone pole by an investment banker, but really, this doesn't happen until there is only fifteen minutes left to go in the movie. The movie, after many, many slows scenes, finally picks up speed, but by this point Reyes has grown bored so he crams a bunch of stuff into the last few minutes. Things happen way too quickly and then Reyes tries to be dramatic some more by doing a really stupid and pointless thing at the end. What does he do? Well, I'll tell you since you shouldn't waste your time with this movie: He kills John Leguizamo.
Empire's overall plot had potential, but newfound director Franc Reyes does little to make it anything more than a direct-to-video movie. How Universal Pictures decided to ship this to theaters is beyond me...
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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