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Blu-ray Review: Juice: 25th Anniversary Edition

June 7, 2017

By John Corrado

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the 1992 drama Juice offers a compelling and still relevant portrait of four teenaged friends colliding with each other and the law in Harlem, as they seek the power they call the “Juice.”

Q (Omar Epps) wants to prove himself by becoming a scratch ‘n’ mix DJ, entering to show his stuff at a local Saturday night competition.  But Bishop (Tupaac Shakur) sees a quicker route to gaining power and money by pulling off an armed robbery of a local convenience store on the same night, using the DJ competition as their alibi.

But as their plan is put in motion, things quickly spiral out of control, with dangerous and unavoidable ramifications for both Q and Bishop, as well as their friends Raheem (Khalil Kain) and Steel (Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins).

I had admittedly never seen Juice before getting the Blu-ray for review, and when I watched it the other night, I was gripped right from the opening scenes.  The film starts as an engaging look at the lives of restless kids in Harlem, before turning deadly with the introduction of a gun into its plot.  It presents a world where the drive for the “juice” leads to guns, the guns lead to violence, which only leads to more violence and in turn greater isolation, in a vicious and seemingly never-ending cycle.

The storytelling is tight, building up genuine tension as the fallout and consequences from the night of the robbery start to send the characters even deeper down the rabbit hole of violence and betrayal, with every attempt to fix things or set them right leading to more complications.  The directorial debut of Ernest R. Dickerson, Spike Lee’s longtime cinematographer, the film is stylish and energetic, without ever losing focus as a nuanced character study.

Q and Bishop are compelling central figures, a pair of young men from similar backgrounds who are both caught in the same world of poverty and lack of opportunity, but see drastically different ways out of it, with the actions of one threatening to send them both down the same dangerous path.  The film is carried by a powerful performance from Omar Epps, who makes us empathize with his character’s drive to do the right thing.  This is matched by an intense turn from Tupac Shakur, in a blistering role that shows the true movie star potential he would have had if his life hadn’t been cut tragically short.

The result is a gripping snapshot of Harlem in the 1990s, that unfolds against an all too real backdrop of racial tensions, poverty, gang violence and run-ins with the police.  Tightly wound at just over ninety minutes, and featuring an incredible soundtrack of groundbreaking hip-hop songs, Juice is a powerful and thrilling film that remains as heartbreakingly relevant as it ever was.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track by Ernest R. Dickerson, as well as four featurettes.  First up is You’ve Got the Juice Now which looks at the making of the film, The Wrecking Crew offers a look at the cast, Sip the Juice: The Music focuses on the soundtrack, and Stay in the Scene: The Interview is a vintage piece featuring the four main actors.

Juice is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release.  It’s 94 minutes and rated 18A.

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