Omar Cook, Adonis Armstrong
Omar Cook, Adonis Armstrong
When your source is about to take forty percent of your money, that doesn't exactly leave you with enough left to justify a life of crime, right? Things are getting heated in the city's underground, led by Kevin Lyles, aka Keys – and the soft-spoken Corey has been enlisted to go undercover & battle the drug war on the front lines. It ain't gonna be easy, of course; he's going to have to leave his family and loved ones behind & essentially disappear into the character of Dray Jacobs, all in the name of making the world a better place. With his girlfriend Sierra pregnant and expecting, the timing isn't really all that good - but what can you do?
His backup partners seem to have little to no faith in Corey as "LA Undercover" begins, and I have to admit, I kind of get it. The man's about to step into the harshest of terrain with a lot on his mind - he's not particularly big, he doesn't seem to have that natural commanding presence that most officers have, and he might just be too much of an honest guy for this line of work. But as he starts to slip into character, the cockiness comes out, which might help Corey out in the long run, but it might also be what gets him killed. We spend a good portion of this movie wondering if Corey will be cut out for life as Dray Jacobs.
So, let's be real here – "LA Undercover" is about an hour long, so there's no real choice but to move things along as quickly as possible. Corey gets involved in an extremely tough situation pretty much on day one, and behind the scenes, he's basically crumbling emotionally and breaking more rules than he was ever supposed to. As the audience, we definitely question what Corey is capable of if he's in as much trouble as he is on day one, and regardless of what he's done, it does seem like he managed to get into the Keys crew extremely quickly. The storyline is definitely plausible enough, but "LA Undercover" seems to be just barely keeping up with the plot through the scenes we see, giving us what we need to see and not a whole lot more. All the fat has been trimmed, which leaves this film feeling a little bit bare bones - when it comes to the visual details, but as I said, there's just enough there to keep us with it, the story coherent, and the entertainment continually coming atcha as well. If I had to give Corey a grade on his ability to do this job, however, I'd be giving the guy a passing grade at best. He's not only putting his life on the line, but he's not exactly being smart about keeping his job a secret, which puts his relationship and family in unnecessary danger, and he could have avoided many of the problems he seems to create for himself. He keeps reminding Sierra that this job isn't going to last forever & we keep screaming at the screen for him to take his own advice & STAY UNDERCOVER for more than a hot minute. I'll give Corey credit for seeming harder than he started on this job, though; he's becoming Dray Jacobs, and we can visually see that change occurring onscreen, which was strong.
Writers/Directors Omar Cook and Adonis Armstrong have done a great deal of things right. From the gritty look of "LA Undercover" to the relevant soundtrack & modern dialogue - to creating compelling characters – there are lots of positives to be found here. However, I do feel like they needed a bit more patience on the job - to give this film a bit more somehow… I'm not suggesting they add filler where it isn't needed, but as I said, despite the circumstances, Corey makes his way into the inner circle of Keys really quickly, and a few more scenes trying to crack into this underground business might have gone a long, long way. I've got a thing about the blood being spilled, too. I ain't squeamish – it's simply a matter of it being a bit orange and thin visually, which is something we can mentally get around to a degree – but consider that the opening scene has got some of that involved, and first impressions can often dictate our opinions later on down the road. Having those kind of visual details in line can be crucial to our suspension of disbelief in a crime-based story like "LA Undercover," which seems like it could definitely mirror real life.
Acting-wise, this film has strengths and weaknesses. I'm still not sure how I felt about Corey (Omar Cook) as the main lead overall, but I felt like Keys (Clay Cureton) was unquestionably strong. Part of that opinion might have more to do with the casting than it does with the acting. You feel me? Cureton seems like a natural fit for the role he's playing, whereas it felt like Cook was doing his level best to make an odd fit work as much as possible. The supporting cast is all pretty even across the board – Sierra (Queen Ajima) is a welcome bright spot as Corey's girlfriend, and Akin Coley was one of the best onscreen in playing the character of Strap, the real muscle in Keys' gang. I wrestled a bit with Brandon Paul Johnson as Captain Drew Wright - and felt like Adonis Armstrong did a decent job holding it down as Ty, but that the character didn't feel as essential to the story as the rest seemed to be. Some performances were sharp, while others could have been sharper, but despite a slightly uneven balance, it all worked out pretty well in the end.
The real question by the end becomes whether or not they can leave things where they are and have this story feel complete enough for the audience out there watching - and honestly, I don't know what the answer to that will be for everyone. To me, it felt like Armstrong and Cook intentionally chose to leave us on a cliffhanger that definitely implies there is more to this story yet to come – and if that's the case, great - but if not, then that's where things get dicey. If "I" got that impression, then a whole lot of other folks watching will certainly feel the same way. On the bright side, I would definitely watch more if there were more, which is a comment that could apply to this film just as much as the possibility of there being a sequel, you know what I mean? So now it's really up to this filmmaking duo to supply that. I think Cook and Armstrong will benefit by adding more details and length to their work, but overall, they're clearly on the right path. Is this the last we've heard from Dray Jacobs? Time will tell. I'm giving "LA Undercover" three out of five stars – it's "good" entertainment, but Cook and Armstrong clearly have greatness within them.