Death of a Dynasty

There is a very surreal feeling to Death of a Dynasty, from hip-hop mogul Damon Dash (Paper Soldiers). Most of the people who will watch this film know what Dash looks like. They know what Jay-Z, P. Diddy, Beanie Sigel, and a huge host of other hip-hop stars look like. Yet, Dash casts actors as rappers/singers, and has rappers, actors, and singers appear in cameos. So Chloe Sevigny, Flav-o-Flav, Jam Master Jay and DMC, Duncan Sheik, and Lorraine Bracco will work their way across the screen. Late in the film, some of the very actors portrayed by rappers will then appear as themselves. Confusing? Don't worry, the rest of the film isn't.

Dash has his fingers in all sorts of business. He is CEO of Roc-A-Fella records, has his own line of vodka (constantly hawked here), watches, and Roc-A-Wear. While he may be good at those other things, he has a lot to learn about making movies. He has directed videos, and at best, Death of a Dynasty feels like a bunch of jokes strung together. In small pieces, perhaps videos, they would work very well. As a whole, the film is scattershot and all over the place, punctuated by small moments of brilliant parody. It's almost as if Dash and screenwriter Adam Moreno (Safe Men) cobbled together those skits found in between songs on a rap album. The movie chronicles the supposed rift at Roc-A-Fella between Dash (Capone, Paper Soldiers, Urban Massacre) and Jay-Z (Robert Stapleton), as seen through the eyes of journalist Dave Katz (Ebon Moss-Barach, Winter Solstice, Mona Lisa Smile).

Katz is on assignment from his magazine and seems like an odd choice. He doesn't have much knowledge of hip-hop, but soon becomes very full of himself. He becomes a parody of what everybody thinks is cool, and looks very much like a fool at the same time. His boss (Rashida Jones, Little Black Book, Full Frontal) demands stories. Instead, Katz tries to go around her to promote his own career. Katz is pretty ineffective at first, but eventually begins noticing some strange goings on, prompting him to act like a real reporter. Who is this mysterious beautiful woman (Devon Aoki, Sin City, D.E.B.S.) who seems to be in the middle of everything?

Death of a Dynasty is pretty light on story, opting instead of lots of small side trips into all sorts of things. The best is when Jay and DMC show up as crotchety old rappers, reminiscing about the past. But the film overall falls short because Dash doesn't have experience directing movies. He directs Death like a music video instead of a film. It is brash and loud, and this works in small bursts, but can potentially become annoying when stretched over ninety minutes. The acting goes along the same lines. The Katz character goes so far off the deep end he is nothing more than a caricature. This feels like a tentative first step for Dash, trying to expand into another arena. He shows some promise, but he has to start somewhere.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R for pervasive language, some drug and sexual content.

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