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Four Black women, all of whom have suffered for lack of money and at the hands of the majority, undertake to rob banks. While initially successful, a policeman who was involved in shooting one of the women's brothers is on their trail. As the women add to the loot, their tastes and interests begin to change and their suspicions of each other increase on the way to a climactic robbery. Written by
Robert Drake <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A formula caper film,but not in the style of Ridley Scott's "Thelma and Louise",the film "Set It Off",offers the novelty of a quartet of young black working-class girls from South Central Los Angeles who turn to bank robbing when times get tough. Although the characters are well played with some of great and intense action scenes makes for an uneven mix of social drama and exploitation film,from which the likes haven't see since the days of the 1970's action blaxploitation films. Bank teller Frankie Scott(Vivica A. Fox)is fired from her job and joins three friends in working for a late-night cleaning service. Complaining about the work,she suggests in jest that they rob a bank. Cleo(Queen Latifah),a hard-drinking tough-as-nails female,and the only one in the group with a criminal record,is seriously interested. Both Stony(Jada Pinkett-Smith),a young woman trying to put here brother through college,and Tisean(Kimberly Elise),a single mother,dismiss the motion out of hand.
Events take a turn for the worst when Stony's brother,Stevie(Chaz Lamar Shepard),is killed by the police in a case of mistaken identity,and Tisean's son is taken away from her by Child Protective Services after he accidentally swallows cleaning fluid at the girls' workplace. Frankie insists that,with her knowledge of banks,they can plan a foolproof job,and she and Cleo convince the other two that they can get out of South Central Los Angeles for good with enough cash. Stony,is sent to case Downtown Federal,where she catches the eye of Keith,a handsome,well-educated bank manager(Blair Underwood),who gives her his phone number. They soon began dating.
The four girls execute their first bank job wearing wigs and sunglasses and make off with $12,000. A second robbery nets them $300,000,enough for them to leave L.A. They hide the loot inside an air vent in the cleaning office. They decide to wait three days before leaving town,until after Tisean's court date to get her child back. Meanwhile, Detective Strode(John C. McGinley)and his female partner Detective Waller(Ella Joyce) doggedly pursue all leads and identify Stony,Frankie and Cleo as suspects. Learning that their boss,Luther(Thom Byrd),has fled with the stolen money,the girls enlist the aid of an notorious gunrunner,Black Sam(Andre "Dr. Dre" Young),who is also a local gang leader,to track Luther to a seedy motel. When Luther pulls a gun out on Cleo,Tisean shoots and kills him. But they are unable to find the money.
The girls pull one last bank job-at Downtown Federal,where Keith works. In order to get Keith out of the bank during the robbery,Stony calls him and tells him to meet her. Strode and his partner interrupt the robbery and get the drop on all four girls. In the ensuing confrontation,a bank guard fires and wounds Tisean and is then shot by Stony. The girls flee with the money and manage to elude the police for several hours. Before the night is over,Tisean dies from her wounds,and Cleo and Frankie are both killed by police bullets in separate incidents. Stony manages to get on a bus to Mexico and freedom. She calls Keith and thanks him.
The motion picture,"Set It Off" offers the audience four intriguing young black female characters,a rare grouping in any Hollywood movie and from the strength of this film went on to become one of the top ten best action films of 1996. Three of the group who stars in "Set It Off",constitute the hottest young black female actresses of their day. You have Jada Pinkett-Smith("The Nutty Professor","Menace II Society", "Jason's Lyric","Collateral"),Vivica A. Fox("Independence Day","Soul Food"),rapper-sitcom-singer star Queen Latifah(from the television series "Living Single","Chicago"),not to mention at the time newcomer Kimberly Elise("John Q","Diary of a Angry Black Woman"). What made this film so very riveting to watch was the electrifying performance of actress Queen Latifah,in one of the most surprising roles ever accompanish by a actress,is a thrill to watch as Cleo. No one else but Latifah can bring this riveting and pulsating character to life with her outlandish style of gun-toting and sometimes extremely foul mouthed criminal flair. Instead,"Set It Off" is fast paced and very well-acted.
The director F. Gary Gray,most notably for the original comedy "Friday",with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker,and the fast paced crime thriller "The Negotiator",with Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson makes imaginative use of L.A. landscape,but still will leave a feeling of social conscience,especially when it touches the issue concerning the explosive rage inside the angry black woman,and the harsh realities of trying to survive in a rugged landscape.
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