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Life Is Hot in Cracktown (2009)

Director: Buddy Giovinazzo
Starring:  Evan Ross, Illeana Douglas, Brandon Routh, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Tony Plana, Kerry Washington, Desmond Harrington, Richard Portnow
Not rated, 102 minutes

Less than five minutes after the film begins, we see a young woman being led into an alley where several nasty teenagers with really bad intentions have made plans to gang rape her. She begs, she pleads, she screams, she threatens to tell her brother, but none of it does any good. At the point when the gang begins tearing the girl's clothes off, we start to expect the film's hero to appear with a shotgun and a one-liner and put an end to the attack.

But it doesn't happen. Each member of the gang gets to take his turn, and they cap the event by urinating on the naked, crying woman.

There's no one around to save the girl, or anyone else for that matter, in Buddy Giovianzzo's Life is Hot in Cracktown, a relentlessly bleak drama about life in a California slum that shows that Giovianzzo's worldview hasn't brightened much since his 1985 debut, Combat Shock. Adapted from the director's book of the same name, Cracktown is a loosely connected series of stories involving hookers, crackheads, abusive parents, psychotic teenagers, terrified elderly people, trannys, and the men who love them. While it doesn't possess the same apocalyptic fury of Combat Shock, Cracktown shares the same life-is-a-nightmare-and-the-only-way-out-is-death tone that makes it one of the year's more unsettling motion pictures. Giovianazzo has lost none of his edge, none of his ability to kick the audience in the gut and then rub their face in their own sick.

Rapist, gang leader, and all around jerk Romeo (Evan Ross) does his best to look hard  for the camera.

While there is no real star, the most compelling character by far is teenage gang leader and all-around scumbag Romeo (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross!). He's the only character in the film that is almost impossible to feel any sympathy for, and is interesting to watch just to see what terror he's going to inflict next. From organizing the film opening gang rape, to a long, hard-to-watch scene where he and his gang torture a frail old man with an enema bag, he's one of the most evil little bastards you'll ever see in a movie. His character would be right at home in an early 80's revenge thriller like Death Wish or Tenement where we would at least get the pleasure of seeing his head getting blasted with a sawed-off shotgun. But in Giovianazzo's world, the bad guys live on while the decent and well-intentioned pay and pay and pay.

This is one dark little movie, full of beatings, rape, child abuse, do-it-yourself abortions, with a feeling of pending doom permeating every scene. Suffice to say, this isn't one you want to watch with Grandma. But if you've got the stomach, Life is Hot in Cracktown deserves to be seen.

3.5 out of 5.

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