A movie about the rise and fall of drug kingpins is no longer original. Empire tries to give it a Latino twist, but still falls into the category of been there, done that. If anything, Empire is a good showcase for the dramatic talents of John Leguizamo. Leguizamo (Ice Age, Collateral Damage) usually trolls around in smaller, comedic roles. This is his chance to carry a movie, and he far exceeds the limitations of the script. Also good is Peter Sarsgaard (K-19: The Widowmaker, The Salton Sea), also usually in smaller roles. This may not be the best movie to highlight two potentially breakthrough roles, but hey, at least there is something worthwhile about Empire. Leguizamo is Victor Rosa, a New York drug dealer who pushes his own cut heroin he calls Empire. He is constantly battling his fellow pushers for territory, and is beginning to tire of the whole thing.

When his girlfriend Carmen (Delilah Cotto, Personals, Girl 6) announces she is pregnant, his desire to leave his old life behind increases. Carmen's friend Trish's (Denise Richards, Undercover Brother, Valentine) boyfriend Jack (Sarsgaard) is an investment banker, and wants to help Victor. Victor sees this as his way out. He gives a lot of money to Jack, who delivers on his promise, and moves out of the inner city and into Soho. Victor's old friends feel abandoned, and Victor now sees himself as moving up in the world. Victor slowly estranges himself from his new friends and tries to adapt to this swanky new lifestyle. Since originality is not one of the trademark of first time writer/director Franc Reyes, certain things must now happen. Events concerning Victor's old associates will come back to haunt him, and Jack may turn out too good to be true.

The script lacks as much subtlety as it does originality, resulting in a loud, dull, predictable movie. There is never any doubt which way the plot will turn, who will live and who will die, or who will randomly flip out causing other bad things to happen. Everybody just goes through the motions, biding their time until the next story development. The one nice thing is giving some intelligence to the Victor character, so that he is aware of the hole he dug for himself. Yet, for all his smarts, he is still dumb enough to follow Jack like a smitten puppy dog, which is a character inconsistency. And what exactly does Victor do all day? After he leaves his old neighborhood, Reyes states that his only friends are Carmen and Jack, whom they hang out with every once in a while. He doesn't have a job, he doesn't sell drugs anymore, and he doesn't know a whit about investing. Maybe he's looking for a better script. There are also some stylistic visual attempts near the beginning of the movie, but again, nothing that dozens of movies haven't already tried.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content, and some sexuality.

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