Paid in Full is remarkably engaging despite being noticeably derivative of Goodfellas and at least a half dozen other trouble-in-the-ghetto flicks ranging from Cube to Do the Right Thing. “Lucky” (Wood Harris) is a shy kid from Harlem working as a dry-cleaning deliveryman. Lucky succumbs to peer pressure (one thug’s sales pitch goes: “With this money, your girl will suck your dick all day”), meets-cute with drug lord Lulu (Esai Morales, hamming up a storm) and soon starts selling cocaine to the neighborhood folk. Though he’s yet to discover the advantages of bottles over plastic bags, Lucky does learn how to sell wholesale. It’s not long then before a bullet in the head and an unfortunate kidnapping teaches Lucky a lesson or two about family and respect. Via a series of punchy montage sequences, director Charles Stone III evokes Lucky’s gradual transformation into a major Harlem kingpin. During one sequence, Stone intercuts images from Brian De Palma’s Scarface with shots of Lucky selling drugs and friends enacting violence. Most effective are the subtle methods by which Stone implicates Reagan’s culture of greed in the chaos of the ghetto (look for all the falling money and listen for the soundtrack’s repeated references to Bob Barker’s “The Price is Right”). Paid In Pull is crippled by a tidy denouement though its saved by Harris’s gentle performance and the script’s willingness to place equal blame on the ghettoization of black culture on the individual. When Lucky tells his mother that his nickname just doesn’t cut it anymore in a luckless time, it makes his martyrdom that much more difficult to watch.
- Charles Stone III
- Matthew Cirulnick, Thulani Davis
- Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer, Cam'ron, Chi McBride, Esai Morales, Elise Neal, Regina Hall, Kevin Carroll, Jonas Chernick, Hakan Coskuner, Derrick Simmons, Michael Stevens, Nelson Tynes
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