A slow, hazy hip-hop trip through screwed-up young America, “Weapons” is the anti-“Boyz n the Hood.” Less concerned with character development, social statements, and climatic revelations, director Adam Bhala Lough‘s sophomore effort is a woozy mood-piece about dead-end teens and the cycle of violence in contemporary life. The film’s opening shot, and one of the movie’s best, says it all: a black teenager eats a fast-food hamburger in slow-motion; in the background, an out-of-focus figure raises a gun and blows the side of the young man’s head off, blood splattering against the lens. It’s a languid drive toward oblivion.
Told in five different segments out of chronological order, “Weapons” follows the interlocking stories that lead to the bloody carnage. Sean (Mark Webber) returns from college to discover his best-friend Jason (Riley Smith) got beat up at a party. Vowing revenge, Sean, Jason and their nasty, depressed camera-toting third-wheel friend Chris (Paul Dano) vow to take down Jason’s rival. Meanwhile, Reggie (Nick Cannon) discovers his innocent little sister Sabrina (Regine Nehy) has been raped by Jason, and sets out, with his own posse, to find a gun and kill Jason. On the way to these dual acts of revenge, both parties reveal little much about themselves, and more about the barrenness of teenage-life and their lackadaisical attitude towards death and murder. “We got to kill somebody,” says one character. “Now?” says a teenage boy just awoken from sleep. “Give me another 20 minutes.”
In another sequence, gunfire erupts at a party and the teenagers are unfazed. “Come on over,” says a girl on her cellphone just seconds after the shooting. “No one’s dead.” The moment draws laughs, and Lough slips in some clever jibes about hip-hop culture (“yo, dawg”), but his intentions are more serious: he aims to disturb and provoke.
Surprisingly, “Weapons” doesn’t continue the stylistic flourishes and kinetic energy of Lough’s Spirit-Award-nominated debut “Bomb the System“; rather it reveals an antithetical aesthetic. Using ample long hand-held takes and wide-angle lenses, “Weapons” aims not to wow its audience, but hypnotize them–like the dope-smoking stupor that surrounds many of the characters. In fact, the movie’s most memorable aspect may be its soundtrack by Southern hip-hop artist DJ Screw, whose somnolent raps emulate the feeling of sipping “syrup,” a.k.a. codeine.
Lough departs from this surreal approach in only one segment, titled “I’m Making a Movie.” Shot strictly through the point of view of Chris’s videocamera, “Weapons” turns briefly into a reality-TV nightmare–in which the plot’s only twist comes to light under the claustrophic field of vision of the digital lens.
But the movie — somewhere between Larry Clark, John Singleton and Gus Van Sant — loses whatever measured momentum it begins with. While there may be an underlying message about the “quick-trigger motherfuckers” that spark war and genocide in our lives, there’s little for an audience to grasp here. Lough’s characters aren’t headed anywhere beyond the cul-de-sacs and industrial zones of the film’s locations, and the narrative, too, doesn’t go anywhere but its ill-fated end. But then again, I guess that’s the point.
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