Menace II Society
Menace II Society (pronounced "menace to society") is a 1993 American teen hood drama film directed by Allen and Albert Hughes in their directorial debut, and starring Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett, Larenz Tate and Samuel L. Jackson. The film is set in Watts. The film follows the life of a young man named Kaydee "Caine" Lawson and his close friends. It gained notoriety for its scenes of violence, profanity, and drug-related content. It also received positive reviews for its gritty portrayal of urban violence and its powerful underlying messages.
|Menace II Society|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||The Hughes Brothers|
|Produced by||Darin Scott|
|Screenplay by||Tyger Williams|
|Story by||Allen Hughes|
|Edited by||Christopher Koefoed|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$27.9 million|
Caine Lawson and his best friend Kevin "O-Dog" Anderson enter a local store to buy malt liquor, where the Korean cashier and his wife rush them to buy their beer and leave. After their purchase, the cashier insults O-Dog by saying he feels sorry for O-Dog's mother. Offended, O-Dog briefly argues with the cashier, then kills him and his wife, takes the surveillance tape, robs the clerk's wallet and the cash register, and flees the store with Caine.
In a flashback, it is revealed that Caine’s father was a drug dealer who was killed when Caine was 10, and that his mother was a heroin addict who died of a drug overdose, which led to Caine being raised by his grandparents in the Jordan Downs housing projects.
O-Dog proudly shows off the surveillance tape to his admiring friends. Caine, disgusted at O-Dog's carelessness, tells him to stop showing off the incriminating tape, fearing they will get caught. Later, while Caine and his cousin Harold have left a party to go to a fast food restaurant, Harold is killed, Caine gets wounded, and their car is stolen in a carjacking. Caine, O-Dog and A-Wax avenge Harold's murder by tracking down and killing the carjackers. O-Dog kills Junior, the first carjacker, and Caine shoots and injures the second carjacker then A-Wax, who was look-out, finishes off the surviving carjacker. Caine and O-Dog are arrested for car theft, but Caine is soon released. Caine's grandfather and his teacher, Mr. Butler, warn Caine that he'll either end up dead or in prison if he doesn't change his ways. His friends Stacy and Sharif try to convince him to leave with them to Kansas. Caine ignores all advice.
After buying a new car from a chop shop, Caine carjacks another young black man for his gold wire wheels and his jewelry, then purchases a large quantity of cocaine that he plans to sell as crack. He also meets a local girl named Ilena and eventually has sex with her. While driving one night, Caine and Sharif are pulled over and beaten by cops. The two are dumped in a Hispanic neighborhood, but Hispanic gang members take them to a hospital instead of killing them as the cops anticipated. While Caine is hospitalized, his friend Ronnie tells him that she has found a job in Atlanta and invites him to come with her. Caine is hesitant at first, but agrees to go.
At a party, Chauncey, a confederate of Caine in an insurance scam, drunkenly makes sexual moves towards Ronnie. Caine comes to her rescue and starts pistol-whipping Chauncey, causing Stacy and Sharif to restrain him. Ilena calls to inform Caine that she is pregnant, but he refuses to believe that the child is his and drops her. Chauncey retaliates for Caine's assault by sending a copy of the surveillance tape to the police. Meanwhile, Caine beats Ilena's cousin when he confronts him outside Caine's grandparents' house about the pregnancy. Caine's grandfather comes outside to stop Caine, and kicks him out shortly after. Ilena's cousin gathers his friends to get revenge on Caine.
As Caine and Ronnie are preparing to leave for Atlanta, Ilena's cousin and his friends drive by the house, guns blazing, and kill Sharif and Caine. As Caine slowly dies in Stacy's arms, he sees flashbacks of the events that led to this final moment, and recalls his grandfather asking him if he cares whether he lives or dies; he realizes he does, but it is too late.
- Tyrin Turner – Kaydee "Caine" Lawson
- Brandon Hammond – Five Year Old Caine
- Jada Pinkett – Ronnie
- Larenz Tate – Kevin "O-Dog" Anderson
- Samuel L. Jackson – Tat Lawson
- MC Eiht – A-Wax
- Glenn Plummer – James "Pernell" Richards
- Clifton Powell – Chauncey
- Marilyn Coleman – Mrs. Lawson
- Arnold Johnson – Thomas Lawson
- Pooh-Man – Doc
- Julian Roy Doster – Anthony
- Too Short – Lew-Loc
- Khandi Alexander – Karen Lawson
- Vonte Sweet – Sharif Butler
- Ryan Williams – Stacy
- Bill Duke – Detective
- Dwayne L. Barnes – Basehead
- Charles S. Dutton – Mr. Butler
- Martin Davis – Carjacking Victim
- Garen Holoman – Junior
- Saafir – Harold Lawson
- Cynthia Calhoun – Jackee
- Erin Leshawn Wiley – Ilena
- Samuel Monroe Jr. – Ilena's cousin
- Corey Roska. – Vato #1
- Clifton Collins, Jr. – Vato #2
- Michael Edward McGuinn – Vato #3
- Based Dub. – Vato #4
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Originally, MC Ren was set to play A-Wax, but later turned down the role when he joined the Nation of Islam in late 1992. Rapper Spice 1 was set to play Caine, and Tupac Shakur to play Sharif, but they were later fired with director Allen Hughes stating that Shakur was causing trouble on the set. Shakur was angry for not being told why Sharif would turn Muslim. Six months after the firing, Shakur assaulted the director, resulting in Shakur being found guilty of assault and battery. Shakur did not want to play the role of Sharif, as he did not agree (in regards to the authenticity of such a role) that a Muslim could also be a gangbanger. He is quoted as saying the following in a video interview,
"I said okay, cool... fire me from this $100,000 movie, because I ain't goin' play no gangbanger who's a Muslim. There ain't no such thing, I refuse to play parts that don't exist. I will be a young nigga, but will be a real young nigga."
Menace II Society received generally positive reviews from critics. The film scored an 83% 'fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 35 reviews. Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum stated, "This is a powerful, convincing, and terrifying look at teenage crime in contemporary Watts." Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly gave it a positive review, stating, "Menace II Society is bleak, brilliant, and unsparing." EmanuelLevy.com gave the film an A, saying it is "The most stunning feature debut in the new African American cinema, even more so than Boyz n the Hood to which the coming of age feature bears thematic resemblance." The film was placed on both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's 10 best films of 1993 lists, with Ebert praising "the way the filmmakers tell Caine's story without making him seem either the hero or victim".
However, the film has also received some negative reviews. Geoff Andrew of Time Out stated, "Regrettably, the Hughes Brothers' first feature is a compendium of cliches." Stephen Holden of The New York Times stated, "If Menace II Society is terrific on ambiance, it is considerably less successful in revealing character." At the 1994 MTV Movie Awards, the film was awarded Best Movie, beating out the likes of Philadelphia, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. The film also won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography.
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