Drugs, guns, vulgarity and rims are just the tip of the pigeonholed iceberg that is Benny Boom’s feature debut, Next Day Air; but what this little caper has that so many other films of a similar ilk lack is heart, and lots of it.
The improbable story follows ten bricks of cocaine from a formidable drug dealer in Calexico, California to his dispatcher in Philadelphia by way of an overnight delivery service, Next Day Air. Donald Faison, of Scrubs fame, plays Leo Jackson, a chronically stoned delivery man for the fictitious company, whose mind is so clouded on the job that he delivers the coke to apartment 302 instead of 303, setting events in motion. The drugs end up in the hands of fledgling criminals Guch, Brody and Hassie instead of the diminutive yet feisty Jesus, who prefers to be called “Gee-sus” rather than “Hay-zoos”. While Hassie is sleeping on the couch, as he is for the most of the film, Guch and Brody, played with an incredible balance of humor and charisma by Wood Harris and Mike Epps, respectively, hatch a plan to sell the dope to Brody’s cousin, Shavoo, before the rightful owners get wise to the mistake. Think of it like True Romance but without white people and set in Philly.
Though Mr. Faison, whose comedic talents are on display in full force, opens the film with a quick line of dialogue, the story doesn’t really belong to him. Instead, Guch and Brody are really at the center of this tall tale. True, they are hardened criminals with blood on their hands (blood from a gruesome yet hilarious flashback, that is) living in an apartment full of blingy contraband with guns in every corner. Still, they are some kind of lovable fools; boys really, who somehow landed in a playground of vices instead growing up. Just watching the two play Xbox, yelling and hissing at the plasma TV, is evidence enough of their terminal adolescence.
In contrast is Brody’s cousin, Shavoo, the local drug dealer who can “turn ten into twenty” by way of compressing and cutting the dastardly white powder. He is, decidedly, a swindler, yet we also learn he is a dreamer, wishing of a way out of his dirty business. After receiving a laughable call from his coz with details on the new found blow (“bitches”), Shavoo sees a way out by buying the coke, turning more than double the profit, and leaving the game forever.
Next Day Air plays heavy on the laughs, with each specific sub-plot full of goofy moments, a welcome to change to the shoot ‘em up street tale drama. Mos Def appears briefly for added comic relief, but this isn’t just a comedy. There is grit in almost every frame of this movie. The film’s palette is something of a washed out yellow with a milky blue in the blacks. This is a sign of aged film, perhaps short ends from various rolls, implying a shoe- string budget and a make-it-as-you-can shooting schedule. Assumedly, this invokes the blaxploitation cinema that this film aims to build upon. Unlike those films from the 1970s, however, there isn’t really any presence of “the man”, though threat of “the Feds” is mentioned in passing. Where others may call this a revival of the blaxploitation movement, I would say the film’s roots lie closer to Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs, an open and shut heist where the evil-doers also serve as judge, jury and executioner.
It must be said that the film is full of a number of harsh stereotypes, the kind of stuff that many black filmmakers in Hollywood have been trying to shake for a long time. African-American film is one of the fastest growing genres in the country and much of that movement is a deviation from the kind of street thuggery portrayed in Next Day Air. The real charm of Benny Boom’s film, however, is it’s ability to question this base amoral lifestyle while keeping you laughing. Mr. Boom shows real promise as a critical filmmaker. Much in the way that David Fincher’s 1999 Fight Club served as a critique of masculity while celerating it’s basest functions, so to does Next Day Air seemingly glorify thug culture while refuting it’s relevance. I won’t give away the end of the film, but I will say the right people get their comeuppance. Personally, I cannot wait to see where Mr. Boom goes from here, but it will certainly be up.