True to the Game trailer
Screenshot: YouTube

I’m a Netflix black-movie connoisseur. I’ve not been shy about the fact that if a movie exists and has lots of black people in it, there’s a better-than-99 percent chance that I’ll watch it, no matter what. They don’t even have to speak English. I may not make it all the way through—some movies are just that bad—but I will give it a try. The highs have been high, and the lows are pretty low, but mostly, I enjoy a good or bad storyline the same. I also really enjoy scriptless hood movies where the only direction is “Go in there and keep it real.”

With that being said, just because I’m entertained doesn’t mean I think these movies are all good. Au contraire, mon frère. The vast majority are the equivalent of low-budget Tyler Perry movies without any of the promotion behind them. Which brings us to the movie True to the Game, based on the Teri Woods book of the same name, which apparently came out last year but I just discovered on Netflix last week.

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Do you remember the movie Jumping the Broom, with Paula Patton and Laz Alonso? Way back yonder when it came out, I argued that the movie would have been improved by Tyler Perry. It was brought to us by T.D. Jakes without one true ounce of humor. He attempted to make a movie that would reach the Tyler Perry demographic, but with “more class.” I know some folks like it, but it really suffered from a lack of humor, thus making it low on entertainment value. It was like the gospel rap of black movies; “good” content doesn’t excuse less-than-stellar entertainment value.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have television shows like Power, which are low on the positive-content meter but super high on entertainment value, if only for the sheer ridiculousness the show aspires to. For instance, there is NO reason anybody should be alive on that show. It should be an hour of a black screen. I personally would like to see the entire cast get killed. If the show ends with anybody from the original cast alive at the end, I’ll be severely disappointed. I’ll be series-finale-of-Oz disappointed. The premise of Power is a simple one, and True to the Game is basically the same thing.

One point of note: True to the Game is a movie, and Power is a seasons-long television show. I understand that a TV show has more room for nuance and development. I argue that True to the Game couldn’t care less and was probably 20 minutes too long at about 1 hour and 40-plus minutes. It was basically a ’90s music video, and they had $10,000 left over and said fuck it, let’s make a movie. They probably had change left over.

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True to the Game is the story of a drug dealer who dresses nice and is smart and wants to get out of the game for a woman (Gena) he meets and falls in love with who used to date a drug dealer, so she’s kind of over that shit—until she isn’t, of course. Power is the story of a man who wants to go legit but everybody around him wants to keep him in the game. And he envisions a new life with a former flame who also happens to be an assistant district attorney for New York. Nothing can go wrong there. Sarcasm mine. Power benefits from compelling characters, a frustrating set of circumstances, good sex scenes, quality violence and no cornball attempts to telegraph who everybody is.

Now imagine if somebody said to Tyler Perry, take all that’s good with Power, remove it and make a movie. Like, make You Got Served, except instead of dance battles, there are drug turf wars. With Columbus Short (dancer) as your star. And include Vivica A. Fox in a confusing, useless role because she’s free. Set it in Philly. Make somebody Muslim. But write the dialogue like usual. And #WallahMagic, you get True to the Game, which has nothing to do with Tyler Perry, but the folks behind it went to the Tyler Perry School of Maybe Nobody Will Notice. Shit is awesome, b.

It was exactly what I thought it would be. Entertaining in a “Wow, that’s just bad” way. This era of supersmart, street-savage drug dealers is starting to drag, though. I blame Stringer Bell for this. These well-dressed and too-smart-to-be-drug-dealers-but-the-game-pulled-them-in-even-though-they-just-want-to-get-out gangsters who all die are killing me. No pun intended. At least James St. Patrick (Power) and Stringer (The Wire) dressed well. Not in True to the Game. That budget was too low.

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I do, however, love the “hood chick in school” storyline. And the “buy out the restaurant” scene. And the slow-motion violence that is only missing a Godfather-like score. I love those things, but that’s also my issue with the movie: They really didn’t even try. If somebody were to sit you down and say to you, “We want to make a movie about a drug dealer who wants out but can’t escape the life. What should we have in this movie?” I am supremely confident that you could list almost every single aspect of this movie. Except you’d probably include some humor.

Should you go watch True to the Game? Absolutely. Watch that shit. If anything, it’s a wonderful bonding opportunity, as there’s almost no way to watch it without yelling at characters and wanting people to die while wondering just how many plot holes you can count. It makes for a wonderful drinking game.

True.

(See what I did there?)

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