Two Heads-Up!

'Gridlock'd' Is Riveting, Says Our Born-Again Quote Whore.
By Stacey Richter

ON A FAIRLY regular basis, I run into people who identify me as someone who hates all movies and writes only nasty reviews. This isn't true: I love movies! Especially good ones. It's not my fault that most of them are terrible. But in the interest of good karma, positive vibrations and gentleness, I've decided to emphasize only the praiseworthy aspects of Gridlock'd, an imaginative tour de force of cutting-edge cinema.

Cinema Gridlock'd stars Tupak Shakur and Tim Roth as buddies Spoon and Stretch, two witty, likable junkies trying to kick their habit in the down-and-dirty inner city. The film opens on New Year's Eve, when Tupak's girlfriend Cookie (Thandie Newton) has accidentally overdosed. The two must get her to the hospital, a difficult task in the mostly black neighborhood where every other car is a cab, but none of them will stop for Tupak. This dramatic opening had me on the edge of my seat! After finally getting her to the hospital, the guys resolve to kick the habit. It is, they note several times, a New Year's resolution. While Cookie recovers, Spoon and Stretch battle one bureaucratic agency after another (pausing only to shoot yet more dope), in a Kafka-esque battle to get themselves into rehab.

Writer/director Vondie Curtis-Hall, an actor who's been in everything from Broken Arrow to the sorely missed Cop Rock, has combined elements of typical gangster/drug movies and art-house narrative license in Gridlock'd, his directorial debut. Imagine, if you will, Trainspotting transported to the 'hood, but without the unintelligible Scottish accents. Or without the cleverness of Trainspotting, for that matter--but who wants to watch clever junkies? It's unrealistic. Instead of being "clever," Curtis-Hall simply switches back and forth from gangster movie conventions to art-house movie conventions (with a few flashbacks of Cookie thrown in): The boys, for example, conveniently stumble into a drug-related war between their own dealer and his supplier, a very bad man named D-Reper (played by Vondie Curtis-Hall himself). But even while Spoon and Stretch are being chased by bad men in nice cars, they continue their endless, hopeless, yet fierce fight against government bureaucracy. As Cookie says, in her jazz-poetry act: "Life is a traffic jam."

And what a traffic jam! This endless bureaucracy had me on the edge of my seat! Would Spoon and Stretch get the administrative help they needed to kick drugs? Or would they be overcome by the indifference around them and slide back, ever deeper, into the cycle of addiction? Anyone who has ever waited in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles will sympathize with this dilemma. And, if bureaucracy isn't your idea of excitement, occasional bouts of gunplay, confrontations with the police, and a near-altercation with a hot-dog vendor keep the ball rolling. Wherever Spoon and Stretch go, they must confront the ultimate indignity: They are asked to put out their cigarettes. Gridlock'd is a roller coaster of a movie, a rollicking ride on the wrong side of the tracks. Curtis-Hall's gripping drama will keep you pinned to the edge of your seat.

Shakur (who was shot dead only recently) manages to convey great likability and charm, even though his character is a thief and a drug addict. Shakur was a very handsome man and he's extremely pleasant to watch on screen; it's poignant to contemplate that we'll never see him again. Roth, as Stretch, isn't any more annoying in Gridlock'd than he usually is. Thandie Newton, who plays Cookie, is achingly beautiful, has a wonderful accent, and isn't a bit shy about taking off her clothing for the camera. What a cast! What a movie!

And while we're at it, let's give a big hand to the crew, the forgotten folks of film production, including: Sarah Auerswald, additional script supervisor--second unit; Tom Bender, smoke special effects; Joe Camp, animal trainer; Diane Dragoo Duarte, chef's helper; Derek Jensen, best boy grip--second unit; and Ronald Beale, chiropractor. I'm sure these people all did a really great job.

When Gridlock'd ended, the rest of the audience--mostly high school and college-aged kids who had probably been fans of Shakur--sat in a stunned silence. A guy to my right said, "That was different." His friend replied, "That was weird." But I was thinking, "What a wonderful, unpredictable, masterpiece of a movie!" Bravo, Gridlock'd, bravo! TW

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