There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Victor Rosa’s special mix of heroin, Empire, is a big hit in the South Bronx. And Vic (John Leguizamo) is a smart guy, so he uses his brains as well as his guns to earn the trappings of success: the girl (Delilah Cotto), the running mate named Chedda (Treach), and the gold chain with a “G” the size of a flapjack. Though the first reel of Empire certainly doesn’t break new ground in its depiction of drug-borne blood and money, first-time writer-director Franc. Reyes has at least crafted an interesting, relatively complex character in Vic. For all the dealer’s “It’s all about the money—everything else is bullshit” talk, he’s clearly not that single-minded: He loves his girlfriend, is loyal to his crew, and helps out the neighborhood kids when they need video games. That’s why Empire is so disappointing: When Vic gets seduced by the high-class monies of Jack Wimmer (Peter Sarsgaard), a slick, white investment banker with a sweet penthouse apartment, he turns one-dimensional. The instant Vic orders his very pregnant lady to get the fuck out of his SUV, it’s clear that Reyes’ script has lost all of its subtlety and shading. Each step in the film’s second act is as predictable as it is apparently unmotivated, but Empire’s worst moments are saved for the end: There have been peek-a-boo contests between 1-year-olds with more complexity and suspense than Vic and Jack’s pathetic cat-and-mouse game. The only way to have saved Empire would have been a bigger dose of Fat Joe, who, as rival drug lord Tito, chews away at the scenery and the boredom with equal alacrity. Tito’s couch-potato shooting style, which involves being seated on a tricked-out, artillery-spitting sofa, is by far the most thrilling part of the film. Too bad the screenwriting emulates his laziness rather than his ingenuity. —Josh Levin