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Wood Harris, Michael Epps, Mos Def and Donald Faison are great in a movie that will have you guessing whether it wants to be a comedy or a gangster flick.
Faison plays a pot-smoking courier named Leo Jackson in Next Day Air, in which stage and screen veteran Debbie Allen has a small role as the manager of the mail delivery service (and mother of Faison) that mistakenly delivers a shipment of 10 kilos of cocaine to the wrong apartment.
While one couple awaits a drug delivery, the apartment down the hall, occupied by Harris, Epps and their semi-comatose roommate—who no one knows exactly how he came to be a roommate—takes delivery of the package. Once they discover what’s in the box, the enterprising thugs devise a plan to sell the coke that they say is “sent from God” to Epps’ cousin, another street corner pharmacist.
Epps plays Brody, who’s really a Barney Fife to Harris’ character named Guch, who could as well be Sheriff Taylor. When God said brains, Brody certainly thought he said “rain,” and this misinterpretation or “play on words” serves as the first gag in Next Day Air, as Brody takes direction from Guch.
While rehashing the story of their recent failed bank robbery, Brody thinks Guch says to “get the tapes,” when he actually says, “get the safe.” What ensues is a news broadcast making fun of the bumbling criminals, because they only take the bank surveillance tapes during the robbery.
While Brody and Guch think they’ve hit the jackpot, the package of what appears to be pure coke brings more strife than relief.
The movie details many other missteps in the fashion of “A Simple Plan” or “True Romance,” and one mistake leads to decisions made that just seem to make the situation worse—and therein lies the comedic spin to what develops into a gangster movie, complete with a grand shootout, filled with bloodshed and carnage.
The main drug kingpin Bodega Diablo, played by Emilio Rivera, who ships the package from Mexico to the young Puerto Rican couple—bobble head, lame brained Chita and arrogant, bling-wearing Jesus (who insists of being called JESUS) —living in Philadelphia (Cisco Reyes and Yasmin Deliz), gets word that the package has been mishandled, and everybody goes after Leo.
Meanwhile while the drug kingpin, his main man and the couple attempt to track down Leo, Brody and Guch hope to sell the dope to Brody’s cousin, Shavoo, played by Omari Hardwick. They scheme together to accomplish this, all the while fearing that they may get played or have the coke stolen right out from under them.
A surprising addition to this cast of characters is Family Matters’ Darius McCrary, who plays Buddy, the beefy, bodyguard/gangster pal of Shavoo’s.
There’s even time for soul-searching reflection, with Shavoo vowing to get out of the game, in the grand fashion of Ron O’Neal in Superfly. Shavoo just feels that he’d taken his mind off of what’s important and that living a life on the edge isn’t worth it anymore.
But what he doesn’t know is that once he decided to get in on this dubious drug deal, there won’t be much life left.
Next Day Air is a movie filled with great one-liners and laughs, mostly delivered by Guch and Brody.
The comic relief adds a bit of levity, as it sets up a “last-man-standing, winner-take-all” ending that’s probably so close to reality in drug dealers’ lives that it could serve as a public service announcement that echoes the sentiment—crime doesn’t pay!
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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