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MOVIE REVIEW

'Waist Deep' commits crime against civic activism

``Waist Deep" is the story of a neighborhood under siege. South Los Angeles is still caught in gangbangers' crossfire, and the movie pretends to be mad as hell about it.

Our kids are dying on these streets. For nothin'. The civil rights movement may be in the past, but Martin Luther King wouldn't stand for the violence and the ignorance that holds us back.

We need to take these streets back! Back from the pushers! Back from the thugs! Back from the hoochie-mamas and baby-daddys! Back from the thugs who push hoochie-mamas on baby-daddys!

Can I get an A-- Oh, wait a minute. Excuse me, miss. Who you? You out here in this war zone in that tight, short skirt and skimpy top all by yourself? Where your man at? Huh? Oh, the streets? I'll save them later. Right now I'm talking to you, loveliness.

Yes, ``Waist Deep" is the story of a neighborhood under siege. The movie preaches about cleaning out the criminal element. But all too tellingly, it has one eye on blight and the other on the contents of Meagan Good's shirt. Good plays a hooker who helps an ex-con (Tyrese Gibson) raise the hundred grand to get his son back from the crack kingpin (the rapper The Game) who carjacked him while the kid was in the back seat. Their primary mode of fund-raising is bank robbery. She runs sexy, keyed-up interference while he empties safe-deposit boxes and strolls out. The movie boasts that it's ``Bonnie and Clyde on the flip side."

But only momentarily, if at all. It's more a remake of Jay-Z and Beyonce's 2003 classic single than of Arthur Penn's classic movie. Still had ``Waist Deep" been 101 minutes of holdups, it could have been something. Instead, the movie is full of plodding chases and bad acting from the supporting cast. The tyke playing Gibson's son is Tickle Me Elmo with cornrows. Larenz Tate as Gibson's flunky cousin turns in the same slacker-gangsta performance he's been giving since he renounced movie romance for the gym. (Even he seems to know he just doesn't make any sense without Nia Long.) And The Game, playing a shirtless sadist, can extend his feud with 50 Cent by bragging that somehow he has the less charismatic screen presence.

Savory touches abound, though. Kimora Lee Simmons plays a ghetto-fabulous version of herself (if such a thing isn't too terribly redundant). And once, Good rings a doorbell and intones a password that goes something like, ``Prada jeans, Gucci pumps, Fendi bodybag." Outside somebody else's house, she says this: ``It's Double Dutch, Mookie cousin." Both times, she makes you want to find an ice cream truck or stand in front of a gushing fire hydrant. (It'd be nice to see her play a schoolteacher or a law student, but the movies don't seem to think she's made for study breaks. She's built like a brick house and, for the movies, that's that.)

In any case, ``Waist Deep" is a cynical excuse for the writer and director (and talented actor) Vondie Curtis-Hall to sock some money away for the kids' college tuition. It's as if he watched ``Get Rich or Die Tryin' " and thought, ``It needs more palm trees." It's also as if the only way he could justify making another movie smitten with thug life is by having the characters commit their crimes amid a climate of civic activism.

Courtesy of the radio frequently playing in the movie's background, we hear all about rallies and protests to save South Los Angeles, yet we barely see them or the wordy intellectual Michael Eric Dyson , whose voice shows up on some station. (Were the car chases and shootouts cheaper to film?) There's also a rumor on the radio that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa might show up. Why should he though? He's probably already seen this movie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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