One of the biggest drug dealers in South Central becomes suspicious after one of his crew members turns police informant. Will business or paranoia win the day? This is Omar Cook’s Coke Boys.
Back in the 90s black cinema burst back onto the scene and straight into mainstream cinemas all over the world, creating an unparalleled amount of success that has never really been topped. Of course, there had been previous incarnations, the 70’s Blaxploitation era with icons like Richard Rowntree’s Shaft and Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown, but they were made solely to entertain and weren’t seen as important. That all changed 20 years later when (thanks to a couple of Spike Lee joints) black cinema had a renaissance that would see it become both a critical and commercial success. In gaining this platform, black cinema also began to educate us about race relations and the struggles people of color face every day. Do The Right Thing began the first major wave by focusing on black versus white racism, but John Singleton’s 1990 masterpiece Boyz ‘N The Hood was the first time we had seen black families living day-to-day and how they interacted with themselves and in their own neighborhoods. In short, while Spike Lee preached, Singleton gave us a devastating truth that the majority of privileged cinema-goers had never thought about, let alone ever seen before.
Out of all the films we have reviewed on Screen Critix Omar Cook’s Coke Boys is easily the best homage to its source material that we’ve ever seen. From its opening montage of the steamy LA environment to the hip-hop soundtrack from up-and-coming artists, the use of lighting and film grain highlights the grittiness of the dialogue that feels real and urgent. The only thing that seems fantastical about this 20-minute short is the amount of drugs the group tends to be dealing with and the size of the guns that the characters wield. On both counts, these are reminiscent of the more melodramatic De Palma and Pacino classic Scarface or the hit video game Grand Theft Auto than the gritty realism of Boyz or the following year’s Menace to Society, but that is just a minor quibble and, for all I know, the gangs of South Central may actually sell that amount of drugs and use that same type of weaponry.
As well as writing and directing, Cook also excels in the lead role playing the big shot dealer Cain; his performance is genuinely powerful and he has a presence on screen that suggests he is destined for bigger things. He balances the vicious business side of Cain brilliantly with the more softly spoken family side. Close behind Cook is Adonis Armstrong as his partner Trey. Armstrong works well as a calm counterpoint to Cain’s violence, meanwhile, another standout is Clay Cureton as the crooked Detective Harvey – a cop just trying to get his job done any way he can. These three are great natural performers who wouldn’t have looked out of place in that other masterpiece, HBO’s The Wire.
The death of John Singleton in 2019 was a big loss and left a huge hole in the film industry but there is so much promise shown in Coke Boys that if Cook manages to find more opportunities and grab them with both hands he could very well fill that gap and then go on to make his own piece of cinematic history. To pay my own homage to Boyz N The Hood…
Any fool with a camera can make a movie but only a real director could have made Coke Boys.