Set It Off (18)

Directed by F Gary Gray
Starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett, Vivica A Fox, Kimberley Elise, Blair Underwood

An intriguing heist thriller/drama featuring four down on their luck black women from LA who turn to bank robbery as a way out of their no-hope lives.
The film opens dramatically with a brutal armed robbery- no not the ladies, but the bank clerk Frankie(Fox) caught in the middle of it is summarily dismissed because she knew the robbers from the neighbourhood. Stony(Pinkett) sleeps with a sleazy car salesman to get some money o send her kid brother to college, only to have him gunned down by the cops in a case of mistaken identity. Butch lesbiam Cleo(Latifah) just wants some money, and single mother Tisean(Elise) needs the money to proove she can support her son and reclaim him from the child protection agency. Before you know it the girls have come over all Thelma and Louise and are counting their takings, However, things soon escalate, and more robberies follow. While Stony is getting to know rich investment banker Keith(Underwood) and seeing a possible future, her pals are shooting their ex-boss and the situation swiftly moves out of control.
What lifts this above the many action/thrillers around is firstly its protagonists. All fout women are good, particularly Pinkett who is very sympathetic. The four women are all well drawn and believable characters, although they do seem cursed by incredible bad luck! Secondly, the script is a good one. It is well paced and full of good one liners. There is a very funny scene where the women act out part of The Godfather while trying to decide what to do, that is quite unexpected. Thirdly, I liked this film for what WASN'T in it. That is, apart from the final 15 minutes, there isn't too much shooting, we get no unnecessary nudity despite having some very attractive stars, the women retain their characters and DON'T just become macho robbing tough guys.
The film also has a slightly old fashioned morality. We are unquestionably on the side of the women. Even the killing they perform, could be pleaded as self defence. However, only one makes it to the credits. One is a victim of a trigger happy cop, another dies heroically trying to attract the fire of the cops, and the third almost gets away but is shot. Crime doesn't pay girls!
With no big name stars, and women as its protagonists, I don't know how well this film will do. This is a shame as it is a thoughful and intelligent thriller, with a lot to offer. 7.5/10

January 1997

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