|Menace II Society|
|Directed by||The Hughes Brothers|
|Screenplay by||Tyger Williams|
|Produced by||Darin Scott|
|Edited by||Christopher Koefoed|
|Music by||QD III|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$30 million|
Menace II Society (pronounced Menace to Society) is a 1993 American teen drama film directed by the Hughes Brothers in their directorial debut. The film is set in Watts and Crenshaw neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and follows the life of Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) and his close friends. It gained notoriety for its scenes of violence, profanity, and drug-related content, and also received critical acclaim for the performances of Turner, Jada Pinkett, and Larenz Tate, the direction, and its realistic portrayal of urban violence and powerful underlying messages.
Caine Lawson and his best friend Kevin "O-Dog" Anderson enter a liquor store to buy some malt liquor, where a Korean cashier and his wife suspiciously watch and rush them to buy their drinks and leave. As they pay and leave, the cashier insults and provokes O-Dog by saying, "I feel sorry for your mother." Consequently, O-Dog argues with him, fatally shoots both the cashier and his wife, takes the surveillance tape, robs the clerk's wallet and the cash register, and flees with Caine.
In a voice-over, Caine reveals that his father Tat, a drug dealer, was killed in a drug deal gone wrong when Caine was 10, and his mother Karen, a heroin addict, died of a drug overdose. This led to his grandparents raising him in the crime-ridden Jordan Downs housing projects.
O-Dog flaunts the surveillance tape to his admiring friends, greatly annoying Caine. Later, Caine and his cousin Harold are carjacked en route from a party, with Caine being wounded and Harold being murdered. After learning the carjackers' whereabouts, Caine, O-Dog, and their friend A-Wax, an OG, hunt them down and kill them, avenging the death of Harold.
Caine and O-Dog attempt to steal a car and are subsequently caught and bitten by a police dog. The two men get arrested after a failed car theft attempt. Caine's fingerprints match those taken from a beer bottle he dropped in the liquor store on the night of the murders, and though he is interrogated by a detective who tries to trick him by changing the times to confuse him, he soon walks free nonetheless as the police fail to link him due to O-Dog taking the tape. Caine's friends, Stacy and Sharif, try to convince him to accompany them to Kansas, and both his grandfather and Sharif's father warn him that he will either end up dead or imprisoned unless he changes his ways. Caine, nevertheless, ignores all advice.
After buying a Ford Mustang from a chop shop, Caine carjacks a young black man at a fast food restaurant for his gold Dayton wire wheels, his jewelry, and forces him to order some double cheeseburgers. Then Caine purchases a large quantity of cocaine, and plans to sell it as crack. Caine also meets a local girl named Ilena and eventually has sex with her. While driving one night, he and Sharif are pulled over and beaten by cops. The two are dumped by the cops in a Hispanic neighborhood, but the Hispanic gang members surprisingly take them to a hospital rather than further beat them up as the police anticipated. During his hospitalization, Caine's friend Ronnie invites him to accompany her to Atlanta, where she has found a job. Initially hesitant, he ultimately agrees.
At a party, Chauncey, a confederate of Caine in an insurance scam, drunkenly moves sexually towards Ronnie. Caine rescues her and starts pistol-whipping Chauncey, prompting Stacy and Sharif to restrain him. Ilena calls Caine and tells him she's pregnant, but he denies paternity and drops her. Chauncey retaliates by sending his copy of the surveillance tape to the police unbeknownst to Caine and O-Dog.
Meanwhile, Caine brutally stomps Ilena's cousin when he confronts Caine outside his grandparents' house about the pregnancy. After witnessing the stomping, Caine's grandparents firmly tell Caine he cannot remain in their house anymore and reject his plea to stay until he moves to Atlanta. The police begin looking for Caine and O-Dog, now-wanted suspects in the liquor store murder as the police have Chauncey's copy of the surveillance tape, proving their involvement. Upon hearing from their friend Doc that Chauncey sold them out to the police, Caine and O-Dog begin hiding out at Ronnie's and other friends' houses. O-Dog vows revenge on Chauncey while Ilena's cousin gathers his friends to seek revenge on Caine.
As Caine and Ronnie are preparing to leave for Atlanta, Ilena's cousin and his friends drive by Ronnie's house and engage in a drive-by shootout. Sharif is killed instantly, while Caine is fatally wounded trying to protect Ronnie's son, Anthony. O-Dog shoots back at the attackers and is unharmed. After the shootout, Stacy and Ronnie come running out of the house. Ronnie tends to Anthony and Stacy tends to Caine, forcing O-Dog to get help for him. As Caine's life flashes before him, O-Dog is caught and arrested for the liquor store murder, and is put inside a police car. Caine recalls his grandfather asking him if he cares whether he lives or dies, and he realizes in his dying moment that he does, but now it's too late.
- Tyrin Turner as Caine Lawson
- Brandon Hammond as five-year-old Caine
- Jada Pinkett as Ronnie
- Larenz Tate as Kevin "O-Dog" Anderson
- MC Eiht as A-Wax
- Glenn Plummer as James "Pernell" Richards
- Clifton Powell as Chauncey
- Arnold Johnson as Thomas Lawson
- Pooh-Man as Doc
- Julian Roy Doster as Anthony
- Too Short as Lew-Loc
- Khandi Alexander as Karen Lawson
- Vonte Sweet as Sharif Butler
- Bill Duke as Detective
- Samuel L. Jackson as Tat Lawson
- Charles S. Dutton as Mr. Butler
- Saafir as Harold Lawson
- Ryan Williams as Stacy
- Reginald Ballard as Clyde
This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2014)
Originally, rapper MC Ren was set to play A-Wax, but later turned down the role when he joined the Nation of Islam in late 1992. MC Eiht replaced MC Ren's role as A-Wax. Rappers Spice 1 and Tupac Shakur were initially set to play Caine and Sharif respectively, but they were later fired, with director Allen Hughes stating that Shakur was causing trouble on the set. Shakur was angry for not being told why Sharif would turn Muslim. When Shakur was cast in the role of Sharif who, as described in the film was "an ex-knucklehead turned Muslim", he did not agree with how the character was written. While many of his rap music contemporaries were portraying roles similar to their gangsta rap personas, Sharif would have required Shakur to portray the character as a stoic & pious Muslim. According to MC Eiht, who played A-Wax in the film:
My take on it was, everytime we got ready to rehearse, he had an opinion about his character…He wanted them to write in the script WHY he turned Muslim...Show me why I turned Muslim and they wouldn't do it and that's what angered him...You're not just going to give people that ideal that Tupac is just this yeah you know, "preach my brother", fuck that!
Six months after the firing, Shakur assaulted Hughes, resulting in Shakur being found guilty of assault and battery. Nonetheless, after Tupac's death, Allen Hughes praised the actor, stating "If 'Pac had been in the movie he would've outshined everyone."
Menace II Society received generally positive reviews from critics. The film has an 85% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. The consensus reads, "Told with grit and verve by the Hughes brothers in their feature debut, Menace II Society is a gangland epic that breathes with authenticity while steeped in style."
Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum stated, "This is a powerful, convincing, and terrifying look at teenage crime in contemporary Watts." Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly gave it a positive review, stating, "Menace II Society is bleak, brilliant, and unsparing."
Emanuel Levy gave the film an A, saying it is "The most stunning feature debut in the new African American cinema, even more so than Boyz n the Hood to which the coming of age feature bears thematic resemblance." The film was placed on both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's 10 best films of 1993 lists, with Ebert praising "the way the filmmakers tell Caine's story without making him seem either the hero or victim".
However, the film has also received some negative reviews. Geoff Andrew of Time Out stated, "Regrettably, the Hughes Brothers' first feature is a compendium of clichés." Stephen Holden of The New York Times stated, "If Menace II Society is terrific on ambiance, it is considerably less successful in revealing character." At the 1994 MTV Movie Awards, the film was awarded Best Movie, beating out the likes of Philadelphia, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. At the Independent Spirit Award, The film had nominated an for Best First Feature, but lost to El Mariachi (the first installment in the Robert Rodriguez's Mexico Trilogy).
Award and Nomination
- Best First Feature (nominated)
- Best Cinematography (won) – Rinzler
- Best Male Lead (nominated) – Turner
- Best Movie (won)
The director's cut of Menace II Society was released on LaserDisc in 1994 via The Criterion Collection. In August 2021, Criterion announced that Menace II Society, alongside 5 other films, would be released as a part of its first 4K Ultra HD releases. Criterion indicated each title will be available in a 4K UHD+Blu-ray combo pack including a 4K UHD disc of the feature film as well as the film and special features on the companion Blu-ray. The titles were released in November 2021.
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- Holden, Stephen (May 26, 1993). "Review/Film; Teen-Agers Living Under the Gun". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
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- Machkovech, Sam (August 11, 2021). "Criterion announces support for 4K UHD Blu-ray, beginning with Citizen Kane". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
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