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      Off the Hook
    Rhyme doesn't pay

    A rap duo in the Bronx — one always in trouble and one trying to make it legitimately — struggle with business, violence and each other in the moving, true-life drama "Off the Hook."


    "Off the Hook" is based on the true story of aspiring rappers in the South Bronx — and it doesn't stop there. It uses some of the figures from the real-life story to portray themselves in the film. The result is a powerful, naturally dramatic piece of low-budget filmmaking.

    Original title: Bounce.
    Directed by: Adam Watstein.
    Written by: Adam Watstein, Walter Velasquez.
    Cast: Walter Velasquez, Jamal Mackey, L. Vee Anduze, Anthony Young, Pamela Johnson.

    Related links: Official site
    It's the story of a rap duo, Walter and Lorenzo, who call themselves Pos-Neg, which describes not only their music but their relationship as well.

    Walter (Walter Velazquez playing himself) is trying to live his life right — besides hip-hop, he's going to school and has a job coaching youth baseball in Manhattan.

    Lorenzo (Jamal Mackey) is the dark side of Pos-Neg, providing the angry, violent side of the music and doing his best to live down to the level of his meanest stereotypes. We know from the beginning that, whatever his talents, Lorenzo doesn't live very smart. A buddy in a big car stops to talk to him, points to an uninvolved bystander and says, "That motherfucker be calling you 'nails.' "

    "What's 'nails'?" asks Lorenzo.

      Off the Hook
    "Someone that gets fucked up the ass," the buddy says, and that's all Lorenzo needs to set him off in a rage — an insult he didn't even understand from someone he doesn't even know who probably never even said it. Lorenzo's going to have plenty of trouble before the film's over because he can barely control his own often-stupid behavior.

    While his partner is getting into more and more trouble, Walter falls in with a local community organizer (Anthony Young as himself) who runs a positive youth program and promotes music on the side. Things are looking good for Pos-Neg, if the differences that give them their creative spark don't also destroy them first.

    As a viewer, you can almost feel the tug of the good side and the bad side on yourself as you watch "Off the Hook." The film is very good at capturing the angry machismo of urban culture, where the worst thing you can do is let somebody diss you. Not only Lorenzo but his mother, sisters, layabout stepfather and his street friends understand this code, under which they maintain a constant, ambient hostility toward everyone for fear of the perception of weakness.

    At the same time, it offers some hope through the characters who are doing positive work, and this reminds me of my own experience living in some of the city's more marginal neighborhoods — they may be poor and at times dangerous but they're still full of people raising families, doing jobs and finding enjoyment in life. Daily life doesn't have to be all about violence and fear, and usually it isn't.

    As much as the rap group Pos-Neg seems like a mere plot device to symbolize this duality of life in the hood, it's part of a true story. Like a number of French films of the past few years (for example, "The Life of Jesus" and "Rosetta"), it uses non-actors and immerses us in a real place to give a naturalistic portrayal of a community and the people in it. With strong performances from non-professionals close to the story and the neighborhood, "Off the Hook" homes in on the natural drama of one corner of New York and makes it into a very memorable film.

    JULY 6, 2001

    Reader comments on Off the Hook:

  • off the hook-will it be on video   from j malls, Feb 6, 2002
  • Re: off the hook-will it be on video   from Adam, Feb 6, 2002
  • hey   from Danielle Bell, May 22, 2006
  • a good movie   from cam, Jun 22, 2007

  • Post a comment on "Off the Hook"