17 February 2008 | writerasfilmcritic
An Interesting Video if You're in the Mood for It
"Gang Tapes" doesn't pussyfoot around. One is immediately assailed by so many utterances of the word "niggah" that you begin to wonder why most black people are so offended when they hear "whitey" say it. The term brackets practically every declarative sentence in the dialog. Nearly as bad is the continuous use of profanity of the most objectionable sort. "Cyril" is the worst of this group of violent young criminals. Just out of jail, the first thing he does is take a tire iron to the head of a guy walking down the street with his girlfriend. The apparently senseless act starts a cycle of violence between the gang and their chief rivals in the hood that takes out one after another of the film's main characters. Ironically, we never find out exactly what happened to Cyril. Engaged in a violent argument with Alonzo and his fellow gang members following an aborted home invasion, he utters one of the film's most memorable lines: "Niggah, I don't give a f**k if you don't give a f**k so shut the f**k up, mothahf**kah ... niggah!" Later, while practicing with his Uzi in the L.A. River basin, he explains to Kris how his name was changed from "Action" to Cyril. Here, he comes off as slightly less violent and stupid than at other times, although he is still strangely immature for his age. "It was long before you started coming outside," he explains to his young comrade. Another of the gang members actually strikes one as thoughtful. He wants out of the lifestyle and attempts to discourage Kris from becoming either a carbon copy of his older brother, the crack salesman Alonzo, for whom there are actually ethical lines he refuses to cross, or much worse, the unapologetic sociopath, Cyril, who recognizes no boundaries.
I have to disagree with those who claim the film is so brilliant that it is without significant flaws. The low quality of the video is evident throughout, and although amateurish use of the camera would be expected from a 14-year-old amateur videographer (who must be given points for creating a stable platform on the handle bars of his bike), it keeps the movie from being as good as it might have been. Also, the theme music behind the audio track practically drowns out the conversation at several points and is very distracting. The party scenes and rap sessions are overlong, annoying, and too noisy. Several of the young women in the film are quite pretty, well-dressed and intelligent, which adds a pleasant element, but frankly, one does not expect that to be the case in a bad neighborhood. Alonzo's girlfriend is especially cute, as is the voluptuous young woman who decides to make the virginal Kris "into a man." His mom is one of the nicest looking ladies, by the way, although she seems strangely unaware of the life and death struggle going on with her two sons. The final credits reveal that she performed several of the songs for the movie. All in all, this is an interesting movie, if rather shocking and overwhelming. Despite the talent of the actors, the subject matter does not reflect well on black people, in general. As such, it is understandable if some object to it's airing, although the suppression and censorship of artistic expression should never be embraced.