Juice revolves around a crew of 4 friends in Harlem whose daily activities together vary from just hanging out to some petty theft as in stealing some records at the local record shop. Nothing too serious, but in a world like this it’s easy to step over the line of becoming a serious criminal. That is the story of Juice in which the admiration of gangsters can lead to becoming one yourself and with all the strings attached. The movie stars rapper Tupac Shakur as Bishop in his first starring role and Omar Epps, now mostly known for his role of Dr. Foreman in House, as Q, an aspiring DJ, who together with their friends Steel and Raheem want the juice which is slang for power and respect.
The movie starts out fairly low-key. We see these 4 kids (because that’s what they are even if Raheem is already the father of a child) skip school, hanging out at the arcade and doing some shoplifting. Of course they all watch gangster movies and cheer for the gangster whether he dies in the end or not and talk big about scored pussy. Behind this facade are a couple of kids who have relatively normal home situations and are all taken care of by parent-figures. Bishop (Shakur) might be the worst one off with a dad with a kind of unmentioned disease and now he sits all day in his chair watching TV and showing no emotion whatsoever. He also is targeted by a gang of Latino’s who beat him up on a regular basis when he’s alone.
It is this Bishop who glorifies gangsters the most and when an old friend who has just been released in prison holds up a bar he wants to go in with his crew and help him rather than flee the scene like his crew-members want to, but they have the upper hand and when they’re watching the news later on they hear how their old friend was killed by police fire. Yet Bishop still thought they ought to have helped him rob the place.
Things change when in order to gain some money and respect they obtain a gun and under the leadership of Raheem decide to rob a store. Without a reason Bishop kills the store owner and now the crew has gone from shoplifting to armed robbery to a homicide. Tensions rise when an argument afterwards about the gun leads to Raheem being killed by Bishop in a struggle. Now Steel and Q are caught between two fires: the police and slowly-losing-it-all Bishop.
I liked Juice. It was a bit tiresome in the beginning with too much of a build-up (half the movie is about kids hangin’ out and skipping class) before we get to the life-changing events that set the rest of the movie in motion. But once we got there we get an exciting movie of which the end is uncertain as anything can happen. The build-up also feel uneven as the current lives and future goals of Bishop and Q are known, Steel and Raheem are left without any future plans. Q wants to become a DJ while Bishop wants to be a gangster. Raheem and Steel have unspecified intentions and live by the day I guess. Unfortunately this is what makes the death of Raheem less emotional for us viewers as other than “having a kid” he had no real “juice” to his character. After the killings the movie becomes more engaging as Bishop becomes the villain of the piece and Steel and Q are under threat of him.
As a non-professional DJ myself I liked the subplot also about Q wanting to become a DJ himself and seeing the guys spin their records on the “wheels of steel”. It’s this plot, the fact that he has an older girlfriend with a normal job and is reluctant to venture off into a life of crime, what makes Q the protagonist. He’s likable and always is in the background when his crew partake in illegal activities. He is the one who wants to become somebody.
Juice is a good movie about the thin line between pettytheft and serious criminal actvities and about how easy handguns are to obtain and how they can ruin lives in the blink of an eye. The movie could’ve used some tighter directing but the message still stands. Outside the US this movie is not so well known unlike other Urban Dramas like Boyz ’N The Hood and Menace To Society but it now has some kind of legacy as it has Tupac as it’s star in a performance that suits his onstage gangster image, and the movie was sampled in the Hardstyle classic “Nobody Likes The Records That You Play” by DJ Isaac and Tupac’s sentence “Riverside Motherfucker” in Sidney Samson’s hit-single “Riverside”.