By Glenn Kenny
The hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash has been producing and directing motion pictures since the late 1990s. You’d never know it from looking at “Honor Up,” a new movie he directed from a script he wrote with Kevin Bennett.
The filmmaking is point-and-shoot rudimentary (when it wants to get fancy, it resorts to split-screen effects that bring to mind the 1980s production software called Video Toaster). The acting is awkward (Mr. Dash himself has a leading role), and the characters themselves indifferently delineated. Clichés are rife, both in dialogue (“Sometimes good guys have to do bad things”) and construction (shootout scenes are frequently scored to arias and fake-arias sung by Radmila Lolly).
And yet this anecdotal movie about drug dealers and their internecine troubles, and their further troubles with the justice system, can be oddly persuasive. Narrated by Mr. Dash’s character, named O.G., the movie begins by laying out the meaning of the title phrase. Which is pretty much what you’d infer: that you don’t rat out your partners in the criminal enterprise that players call “the game.” The movie then shows various gang members and rivals facing each other down, wiping each other out, and eventually giving each other up.
Nicholas Turturro as a relentless and racist cop, and Eishia Brightwell as the ostensibly “off limits” sister of a dealer who tries to get herself a piece of gang action, make particularly vivid impressions. For all of its failings, the movie sometimes manages to bring a scary whiff of the street into its sounds and images.