A cache of drugs ends up in the wrong place, placing the unwitting recipients in jeopardy. Haven’t we seen this story about 100 times since a blind Audrey Hepburn fought off a diabolical Alan Arkin in 1967’s “Wait Until Dark”?
The premise has been used for suspense, drama and comedy, and the low-budget “Next Day Air” tries to mix all three moods, with limited success. A cross between “Superfly” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” this dark urban comedy shows a lot of influences but generates very little sense of urgency. Maybe a few young males who can’t get into “Star Trek” this weekend will wander into “Air,” but it won’t be around for long.
Like Guy Ritchie’s movies, “Air” has a lot of criminal characters whose destinies intersect during the course of a couple of action-packed days. Director Benny Boom, a music video veteran, jumps backward and forward in time without adding much pungency to the pastiche.
Leo (Donald Faison), a perpetually stoned delivery man, drops off a package at the wrong apartment, which happens to belong to a trio of inept petty criminals who have just tried to rob a bank and ended up with nothing but the surveillance tapes. The drug dealer across the hall (Cisco Reyes) is the man expecting the package, and his boss (the properly menacing Emilio Rivera) is furious when the drugs disappear. Soon they’re all involved in the chase for the stash.
The likable cast helps to make the hand-me-down mayhem watchable. There are juicy cameos by Mos Def as a befuddled crony of Leo’s and by Debbie Allen as Leo’s butt-kicking mother. Faison, a regular on “Scrubs,” deftly plays the stooge, and Reyes and Yasmin Deliz as his hot-tempered girlfriend make an appealing pair of perpetually squabbling lovers.
Although the sepia-toned flashbacks are a tad too arty for such a genial exploitation picture, Boom makes effective use of the Philadelphia locations. The script by first-timer Blair Cobbs even has flashes of genuine wit. But there’s a serious miscalculation when the lighthearted high jinks suddenly give way to a climactic scene of brutal violence. Boom simply isn’t experienced enough to bring off this tonal shift.
Still, a few of the (relatively) good guys survive the bloodbath that ends the film. Viewers who make it to the end credits might not count themselves so lucky. (partialdiff)