If you took Stand By Me and set it in the hood you’d probably get some type of resemblance to 1992’s urban drama Juice. Instead of coming of age while on the hunt for a dead body, Juice follows four best friends coming of age during the aftermath of a robbery. Q (Omar Epps), Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), all Harlem natives, endure the daily struggles of making it alive in the hood. Life is difficult when you can’t predict what problems you’ll face walking out of your door or visiting your favorite hangout spot, but the quartet find time to unwind, joke, and enjoy hobbies to keep their minds clear of their harsh reality.
Yet, after witnessing a robbery take place, Bishop desperately wants to scratch the itch of a life of crime. Tired of being marginalized by cops and other gang members, Bishop becomes vexed with getting “juice”, or respect. The only way to gain power and respect in his eyes is through robbing. Bishop sets the pieces in motion, pressuring his friends to join him in robbing a local convenience store. However, a murder takes place during the robbery and the boys began to buckle under the weight of their participation, while Bishop grows more arrogant and thirsty for blood. With heat from the law, the boys not only fear judicial punishment, but also the megalomania of Bishop.
“You guys wanna see a dead body? Ok cool, because I just shot someone up the street.”
Juice is an exceptionally well-made film that exposes viewers to the hardships of growing up in the ghetto. Juice explores how environment doesn’t just effect one’s upbringing, but also their moral justifications. Q initially wants no part in the robbery, mostly because he doesn’t want it affecting his beloved chances of entering a local DJ competition. Raheem and Steel on the other hand want respect, but have no intention of hurting anyone. The boys aren’t bad, but they do bad things because it’s common in their environment and often times they are left with few other options.
Tupac plays Bishop with such phenomenal menace that it sticks with you. As a kid, Shakur was on par with Freddy Kruger due to his public persona matched with his chilling portrayals in Juice and as Birdie in the 1994 melodrama Above the Rim. Despite playing a more accessible Everyman in Poetic Justice a year later, Shakur’s haunting speech as Bishop explaining to Q why he is so willing and nonchalant to kill is simply frightening. Writer/director Ernest Dickerson and fellow screenplay writer Gerard Brown give Bishop just enough substance to garner sympathy for his mental health, yet, enough venom to fear a human being able to exude such callousness.
He was a poet hell bent on social change and once a back up dancer for Digital Underground. Can’t you see his big heart?
Dickerson’s quick paced and thoughtful direction allows Juice to stand the test of time despite how 90’s it appears. The interaction of the cast and their individual performance’s are equally impressive as well. Juice shines an important light on the plight of not only marginalized African Americans, but all citizens living in urban low class areas. There’s no excuse for a life of crime, but as Juice shows there is always a reason it happens.
Take a Drink: every time a gun is fired
Take a Drink: every time someone mentions Steel’s weight
Take a Drink: every time a major 90s celebrity makes a cameo
Do a Shot: every time Bishop makes you curl in fear.