Film Scouts Reviews

"Set It Off"

by Karen Jaehne

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The success of the soundtrack album weeks before the film has been released makes clear that this movie knows how to please its audience. On the surface it's "Waiting to Exhale" meets "Do the Right Thing." But underneath, it's more interesting, because these chicks want more than action. They want justice, and the action sorta gets in the way.

They rob a bank. And they've got a better reason to do it than Billy the Kid, who explained his own robberies in terms of "That's where the money is." Here, one of our four heroines worked at a bank that got robbed - by a guy she knew. And the bank fired her for knowing that certain someone. This guilt by association rap turns her into a revolutionary - a revolutionary who has to take a job with her girlfriends cleaning offices at night.

An action pic for gals intent on getting back what society has taken from them, the movie treads a very thin line in endorsing crime as an alternative to the screw-job that society delivers on all of us. To be sure, African-Americans are victimized by the system more than their fair share, but as a counterweight to that, "Set It Off" offers the portrait of a young buppie banker who sees a gal and falls in love-at-first-sight with her. This is the romantic weight of the movie; she pretends she doesn't come from South Central L.A. She cooks collards, he cooks cuisine. She dresses in colorful celebration; he decks her out in black with jewelry. And she's seduced.

But she's not seduced enough to pull out of the crime. By the time the long action sequence - complete with helicopters and enough police cars to patrol all of South Central - is over, our heroines are all martyrs. Except one. Her getaway is the key to this movie; the man doesn't finger her. And she gets away - but not without making a phone call to her buppy buddy - and thereby delivering on his head "guilt by association." When his bank finds out he knew one of the thieves, do we think he'll have his job much longer?

The vicious circle may deliver a sequel. Stay tuned.

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