Generally speaking, urban horror is hit or miss…without the hits. Urban Menace is certainly no hit, but it’s (slightly) above average for the genre, thanks in part to the direction of direct-to-video action guru Albert Pyun. Pyun covers up the budgetary constraints of this movie by shooting with some sort of hyper-saturated filter — it’s as if you turned the contrast on your TV set all the way up — combined with a blue hue, making it feel less like a color movie than black-(or rather, blue)-and-white.
Urban Menace isn’t horror so much as a supernatural action thriller along the lines of The Crow. In fact, it pretty much takes its plot directly from The Crow, although I don’t recall Brandon Lee uttering the phrase “bitch-ass nigga” quite so many times. In the story, Caleb (Snoop Dogg) is a preacher (uh, yeah…) who’s murdered, along with his wife and kids, by some “gangstas.” He’s reborn, however, with little explanation as to how, and sets about taking his revenge. That’s right, IT’S SIDEWAYS GUNS GALORE! SIGHTS ARE FOR PUSSIES!!! AND SO IS RELOADING!!!
Snoop’s role is reminiscent of the Jimmy Bones character he’d later play in (the higher-quality) Bones, skulking silently in the dark, dressed in black, with little screen time and few lines (not necessarily a bad thing). The main character is actually King (T.J. Storm), a gangsta with a heart of gold who’s formulated a plan to get his family out of the ghetto…and hopefully get himself out of that Jheri curl. Standing in his way are his bosses, Crow and Terror (Puerto Rican hip-hop MCs Big Pun and Fat Joe), and when I say in his way, I mean in his way…as in, incapable of moving out of his way.
It’s no surprise that Pun died a year after this movie came out; merely breathing through his nose seemed like an ordeal, for God’s sake. With that wheezy, Marlon Brando-esque lisp, it sounded like he had a ham hock wedged between his jaws. There’s a certain campy joy to his dead-eyed performance, though; you’d be hard-pressed to tell that he wasn’t already dead when filming began.
Although T.J. Storm is a martial arts champion, he shows none of his skills in Urban Menace, playing helpless second fiddle to Snoop (or should I say, Snoop’s stunt double) when the shit hits the fan. Ice-T, meanwhile, is just a narrator, interjecting overly dramatic sociopolitical viewpoints like “Urban renewal is corruption, mismanagement, unemployment, disease, crime…The truth in the ‘hood is fear, pain, despair.” He also provides the soundtrack, which feels at best like a bunch of B-sides; more likely C- and D-sides. Still, compared to the urban fare that’s followed it, Urban Menace is downright slick. Pyun’s veteran presence adds a certain assured flair to the crappiness, his “blue vision” treading that fine line between snazzy and seizure-inducing.