A movie is bad when you feel sorry for the actors onscreen. A movie is absolutely terrible when one of the actors you empathize with is David Arquette. Welcome to the atrocity that is Never Die Alone, an updated version of Donald Goines’ book and the early front-runner to sweep 2004′s Golden Raspberries.
Describing the plot for Never Die Alone is like eating tomato soup with a fork: It can be done, but Lord knows how. (The reason why a little later.) Rapper DMX, who also produced, plays King David, a drug dealer who returns to the East Coast hoping to make amends with his former boss, Moon (Clifton Powell). During a payoff involving two of Moon’s thugs and King David, all hell breaks loose.
A total stranger, Paul (Arquette), rushes to the aid of King David, who dies, but not before leaving his Samaritan a few flashy possessions. In his newly inherited car, Paul finds a series of audiotapes in which King David inexplicably chronicles (hello, evidence?) his dominance as a west coast drug dealer. Meanwhile, an enraged Moon dispatches henchmen to kill Paul and the surviving thug, Mike (Michael Ealy).
After watching 30 minutes of this mess, you’ll beg to be on Moon’s hit list. Style triumphs over everything, especially the plot. The movie starts off with an extended flashback, leads into another flashback of King David’s rise to power and then there are more flashbacks inside that success story. It’s more complicated than a Rube Goldberg contraption. Here’s the fun part: there are two other subplots to contend with: Paul’s search for the truth and Mike’s quest to kill Moon. It’s all stylistic subterfuge for a movie that has absolutely nothing worthwhile to offer.
Director Ernest Dickerson bombards us with grainy, washed-out cinematography straight out of Traffic, violent gunplay and lush life images found in rap videos, but offers us no compelling conflicts or characters. Sadly, Dickerson and screenwriter James Gibson don’t invest any effort into what makes King David tick. They just make the guy an extension of the scenery, dressing him in designer attire and allowing him to spout gangsta clichés in a continuous voice over that drains the movie of any potential energy.
When King David gets violent and vindictive with his lovers we are shocked, but only because Dickinson and Gibson are so desperate to get our attention that they change the character’s temperament. That isn’t surprising since the duo already worked wonders with the concept of time. In the lead role, DMX is an undeniable physical presence, with his piercing eyes, boxer’s build, and polished, bald dome, but his acting needs to improve. He delivers all his lines in the same threatening, monotonous rasp.
A character like King David needs to cloak his anger, exploding only when necessary. Don Cheadle or Keith David would have been awesome in that role. But it doesn’t matter. The only thing that could improve Never Die Alone is a caring projectionist, a lighter, and a trashcan.
DMX and director Dickerson offer a commentary track on the DVD, along with 11 deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Never die in the toilet.