Combustible Celluloid
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With: Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Yvette Heyden, Charles Martin Smith, Victoria Dillard, Gregory Sierra, David Weixelbaum, Glynn Turman, Arthur Mendoza, Clarence Williams III, Roger Guenveur Smith, James T. Morris, Alisa Christensen, Roberto Luis Santana, Kamala Lopez, Lira Angel, Rene Assa, Alex Colon, Jaime Cardriche, Sandra Gould, Sydney Lassick, John Boyd West, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Paunita Nichols, Clifton Powell, Lionel Matthews, Cory Curtis
Written by: Michael Tolkin, Henry Bean, based on a story by Michael Tolkin
Directed by: Bill Duke
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, drug use and sensuality
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/15/1992

Deep Cover (1992)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Raw Dealers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The incredibly prolific director and actor Bill Duke has a long list of credits, but Deep Cover may be the film he's remembered for. On the surface, it's another story of an undercover cop who gets in too deep, but Duke elevates it to the next level, touching on race, identity, and economics in a way that other films of the 1990s did not.

Laurence (then "Larry") Fishburne stars as Russell Stevens Jr., a police officer assigned to go undercover and catch drug dealers. His contact is the smarmy Carver (Charles Martin Smith), who asks his candidates a very inappropriate question involving the "N" word. Now called "John Hull," our hero first tangles with an unpredictable lowlife (Roger Guenveur Smith) before teaming up with the charming, unpredictable David Jason (Jeff Goldblum).

Together they rise through the ranks, begin to wear more expensive clothes and drive better cars, and then plan on marketing a new designer drug. Russell/John also becomes involved with a beautiful art dealer, Betty McCutcheon (Victoria Dillard), who begins laundering money for the duo. It ends rather predictably, but the various layers of the movie speak to the American Way in a dark and fascinating manner, showing how the deck is unfairly stacked.

In some alternate universe, Fishburne and Goldblum would have won Oscars for their ferocious, dizzying performances. But the movie's biggest legacy is very likely the indelible title song by Dr. Dre and, in a landmark debut, Snoop Dogg. (Sadly, the end credits crawl uses the "clean" version of the song, for some reason. Too bad the Blu-ray didn't include a way to hear the uncensored version.)

After being called out by the New York Times, the Criterion Collection has been attempting to give more space to Black voices, and thus we have Deep Cover. The transfer is typically excellent, and the audio is equally so. Bonuses include a new interview with Duke; an onstage interview with Duke and Fishburne, conducted by film critic Elvis Mitchell; a discussion between film scholars Racquel J. Gates and Michael B. Gillespie on the cultural merits of the film; a discussion between Claudrena N. Harold and Oliver Wang on the title song; and a theatrical trailer. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by Gillespie.

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