Making note of the fact that a mere 10 geographical miles separate the boogie-down South Bronx from button-down Wall Street, the creators of "Empire" have set out to show what happens when those seemingly diverse worlds collide.
It's an intriguing premise, and perhaps one day somebody will make a movie that actually tells that story.
In the meantime, we'll have to settle for writer-director Franc. Reyes' version, which tries to pass off a scattered, cliched approximation of the real deal.
Fronted by the charismatic John Leguizamo and attracting such icons as Isabella Rossellini and Sonia Braga to supporting roles, this debut offering from Latino-driven Arenas Entertainment certainly held some highly charged promise.
But this "Empire" will likely strike out with its target audience, which can get the same dose of melodrama for free from the average telenovela.
Gifted comic actor Leguizamo locks himself into dramatic mode as respected gangster Victor Rosa, a Little Cezar in the street pharmaceutical business who commands a significant chunk of urban turf with his customized blend of heroin, sold under the name "Empire".
Rosa's definitely at the top of his game, with a loyal posse and gorgeous fiancee Carmen (Delilah Cotto) at his side and an omnipresent gold chain with an enormous letter "G" (once belonging to his murdered Big Brother) dangling around his neck, but it's all going to seriously unravel after Carmen's new friend Trish (Denise Richards) introduces him to her investment banker boyfriend, Jack (Peter Sarsgaard).
Enticing him with a swank SoHo loft and some more "legitimate" off-shore investment opportunities for his millions in drug money, the smarmy Jack is about to play Victor in one of the oldest con games around and, as orchestrated by filmmaker Reyes, Rosa's the only person in the theater that didn't see it coming.
Perhaps he was distracted by all the glare caused by that giant "G."
A former dancer-choreographer-songwriter, Reyes tries to plug the picture's many plot holes and inconsistencies with wall-to-wall Leguizamo voice-overs and music video flourishes that contribute to its all-over-the-place style.
While Leguizamo keeps it together as best he can, it's pretty much safe to say he and the rest of the cast, including Braga as Cotto's mother and Rossellini as a powerful drug "queenpin" with a Bride of Frankenstein hairdo, have done more impressive work elsewhere.
That would also extend to the Ruben Blades score, which seems to have been broken up into little sound bites in order to make room for the arsenal of Latin pop and hip-hop tunes that have been squeezed in to boost the sagging street credibility.
Arenas Entertainment and Universal Pictures present a Daniel Bigel/Michael Mailer production A Franc. Reyes film
Director-screenwriter: Franc. Reyes
Producers: Daniel Bigel, Michael Mailer
Executive producer: Robert B. Campbell
Director of photography: Kramer Morgenthau
Production designer: Ted Glass
Editor: Peter C. Frank
Costume designer: Jacki Roach
Music: Ruben Blades
Music supervisor: Kathy Nelson
Victor Rosa: John Leguizamo
Jack Wimmer: Peter Sarsgaard
Trish: Denise Richards
Jimmy: Vincent Laresca
Rafael Menedez: Nestor Serrano
Carmen: Delilah Cotto
Iris: Sonia Braga
La Colombiana: Isabella Rossellini
Tito Severe: Fat Joe
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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