• Nate Adams

Review: RZA's ambitious 'Cut Throat City' lacks punch




Courtesy of Well Go-USA

Once again changing up his directing styles from 2012’s little seen martial arts flick “The Man With The Iron Fists” and 2017’s “Love Beats Rhyme,” rapper turned filmmaker RZA attempts to upend the heist genre with the tired and convoluted “Cut Throat City.”


Set in the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, RZA’s ambitious project attempts to tackle social class and structure in the wake of a seismic event. But those ambitious often hinder “Cut Throat City” in that it reverts to mindless gangster violence, and corrupt politicians where it should be focused on a city yearning for a comeback.


As a founding member of the popular rap group Wu-Tang Clan, it’s obvious that RZA appreciates and understands his roots. That’s probably why he popped up in a small role ala “Kill Bill: Vol 1” and so on. It’s that bond with Quentin Tarainton that fuels characters debating if “Reservoir Dogs” is better than “The Godfather” prior to attending the wedding ceremony of Blink (Shameik Moore) and Demyra (Kat Graham) in the films opening moments.


Though the storm is making its way through the Gulf Coast, the couple decide to wed with as little flare as possible, surrounded by friends and groomsman, Junior (Keean Johnson), Miracle (Demetrius Shipp Jr), and Andre (Denzel Whitaker) before seeking shelter at home and emerging to find the city in rubble.


RZA doesn’t spend much time in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and never firmly grasps the severity of the situation outside a few newsreel clips and montages. Instead, he cuts away from the central squad of characters (and the devastation) in favor of subplots that fail to earn their keep: notably a crooked city councilman (Ethan Hawke), a dirty cop (Rob Morgan) and a notorious thug dubbed “The Saint” (Terrence Howard).


In an effort to turn over a quick buck and help make ends meet for their families, Blink and his cohorts turn to local gang boss Cousin (Tip “T.I” Harris) to plan a major heist at a nearby casino. Though they don’t really have a plan, the four manage to get away with the goods, but the take is far less than what was initially hoped for and when Cousin doesn’t accept the group’s meager cash haul, it sends the squad on the run, eventually shaking up with Blink’s father (Wesley Snipes) to hide out until the heat gets off them.


RZA certainly knows how to attract an A-list ensemble as Snipes is just one of several top-notch actors in “Cut Throat City” with minimal screen time and a laughable supporting role. As a female cop on the prowl for justice, “Baby Driver’s” Eiza Gonzalez tends to push her performance in all the wrong ways and Howard strives to pull any character dimensions from P.G. Cuschieri’s lackluster screenplay, though his impulses prove futile.


RZA plays a majority of his action scenes straight, except a final standoff/shoot-out is so obviously trying to mimic the filmmakers he draws inspiration from, it completely loses artistic integrity. “Cut Throat City” has its fair share of decent sequences that suggest RZA, when paired with the correct material, can strive for bigger and better things. But in the case of “Cut Throat City,” it proves the director still has some more soul searching to do before finding his next project.


Grade: C


CUT THROAT CITY opens in theaters Friday August 21st. Check your listings.